January 1, 2020

Getting Just 2nd Start for PU Women’s Hoops, Sophomore Connolly Produces Career Day

ON GUARD: Princeton University women’s basketball player Maggie Connolly guards a foe in recent action. Last Sunday, against visiting University of New Hampshire, sophomore guard Connolly got the second start of her career and came up big, scoring a career-high 17 points to help the Tigers rout the Wildcats 77-37. Princeton, now 12-1, is next in action when it plays at Penn on January 11 in the Ivy League opener for both teams. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

With star point guard Carlie Littlefield sidelined for the Princeton University women’s basketball team as it hosted the University of New Hampshire last Sunday, Maggie Connolly got the second start of her career and was ready to shine.

“We miss Carlie always,” said sophomore guard Connolly. “I hope she will be back as soon as possible, but it was exciting to play and get the opportunity get out there with my teammates and make some plays.”

Connolly ended up making a lot of plays, scoring a career-high 17 points as Princeton routed UNH 77-37 before 989 at Jadwin Gym.

In reflecting on her big day, Connolly said she is feeling more of a comfort level on the court with her teammates.

“I think confidence is a huge part of it and just taking care of the ball; that was a huge goal of mine coming into this year,” said the 5’8 Connolly, a native of Wilmington, Del. who went 7-of-11 from the floor as she eclipsed her previous career-high of seven points.

“It is knowing the people are going to be open for a good shot and when not to force it. That is something I am still working on. As a whole, we are getting better.”

With Princeton improving to 12-1 by virtue of the victory over UNH, the team is gaining more and more confidence as the season goes on.

“We are having a lot of fun together and that is a huge part of it,” said Connolly.

“We are really focusing on the defensive end, that has been key and has led to easy offense for us. If we get a good stop, we can push it in transition or at least get an opportunity to execute our offense.”

While Princeton head coach Carla Berube is pleasantly surprised by her team’s sizzling start, she believes the Tigers have only scratched the surface.

“I told these guys just before we left for our little break for the holiday that I looked at the schedule before we started this season, and did I really think we were going to be 11-1 at that point? No, because I didn’t even know who we were,” said Berube, whose team has posted eight straight wins and is ranked No. 25 in the USA Today/WBCA Coaches’ Poll.

“As the games went on and practices went on, I knew that we are capable of being in every game. Once I got to know the team and learn how quickly they pick stuff up and how driven they are every single day and how hard they work, it made sense that we can come together in a short amount of time. We talk every day about how we are still working on it. We are still working so much. There are so many plays we have got to get better at.”

In reflecting on the lopsided win over UNH, Berube saw good plays at both ends of the court.

“I thought there was some really good stuff defensively,” said Berube. “We took away some of the things that they wanted to do and then when we executed and ran our offenses, we got some really good opportunities. We got some open looks. Today was a day to take some steps forward and beat a team like we should.”

Berube credited Connolly with taking a big step forward as she filled in for Littlefield.

“Maggie was awesome, but that is nothing I am surprised about,” said Berube.

“She has been able to come in and relieve Carlie a bit. She has also been coming in and playing with Carlie because she brings so much to the floor at both ends. She is really, really smart. She reads the team and the game really well. She is just a solid player that we really count on. She did a terrific job. We put her in there, playing a lot of minutes. She didn’t look like she got tired at all, she was still running the floor hard and making some great plays.”

Having made stingy defense its calling card in Berube’s first season at the helm of the program, Princeton was its stifling best on Sunday, holding the Wildcats to 23.5 percent shooting (12-of-51) from the floor.

“That is what we want to do every day; we want to frustrate our opponents because we are playing so well on the defensive end,” said Berube, whose team is yielding just 49.7 points a contest.

“They have really bought into it and they are having fun playing that kind of defense. When a team scores on you, it can deflate you a little bit. If you keep getting those stops, you are just getting inflated and good things happen on the offensive end because you are feeling that confidence.”

With Princeton starting its Ivy League campaign by playing at Penn (8-1) on January 11, Berube wants her players to keep their noses to the grindstone.

“It will be great to get into the gym and get some work done,” said Berube.

“It is only two days since we got back from the holiday. It is just get back to working on our stuff and getting ready for Penn. We only have to get ready for one game. We also need to get better as a team. It is nice to be able to just focus on Penn. We know what kind of team they are and what kind of program they are. We know the success they have had and the success they have already had this season. I feel like the team knows them a lot better than I do because I have only been watching them for two months. It will be great. We are excited to go over to the Palestra.”

Connolly knows that the Tigers will face a great challenge when the heated
rivalry resumes in Philadelphia.

“We are definitely excited, it is always fun playing in the Palestra,” said Connolly  “A big part of it in these next two weeks is improving as a team and then we will start to focus on Penn. It is definitely an exciting way to start off the conference season.”

—Bill Alden