February 12, 2020

With Alarie Starring at Both Ends of Court, PU Women’s Hoops Tops Columbia, Now 17-1

RISING FORCE: Princeton University women’s basketball player Bella Alarie drives to the hoop in recent action. Last Saturday, senior star Alarie scored a game high-24 points as Princeton defeated Columbia 77-55. The Tigers, now 17-1 overall and 5-0 Ivy League, play at Yale on February 14 and at Brown on February 15. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Having poured in a total of 59 points in two games against Columbia last year, Bella Alarie picked where she left off as the Princeton University women’s basketball team hosted the Lions last Saturday.

The senior star was sizzling from the start, scoring 11 points in the first six minutes of the contest and 16 in the first half.

“It is always nice to hit your first shot and feel that confidence,” said Alarie.

“When I saw her hand down, I just wanted to shoot the three and see if I was feeling it. My teammates trust me a lot and they want me to shoot the ball. It was nice in that first quarter to have that confidence.”

The 6’4 Alarie ended up with 24 points, hitting on 9-of-15 shots, as the Tigers pulled away to a 77-55 win before a crowd of 1,806 at Jadwin Gym, improving to 17-1 overall and 5-0 Ivy League.

But while Alarie’s sharpshooting was impressive, the stingy Tiger defense proved pivotal, holding Columbia to 19 points in the first half as Princeton seized control of the contest. 

“When we get stops, we can get easy buckets on the other end,” said Alarie, who had five rebounds, three blocked shots and a steal against Columbia.

“It just gives a lot of good energy to the whole team to just know that the other team is flustered and we are locking them up. There are some games where we feel like we are doing a really great job and we are all totally locked in.”

The Tigers hit a lull as they yielded 19 points to the Lions in the fourth quarter with the game’s outcome not in doubt.

“There are times where we have lapses, it is about coming together and making sure that we are always making defense a priority,” said Alarie.

“You can feel it from being on the court, that the energy is low. You can try everything to bring the team together and sometimes you just need to hit the reset button.”

With Princeton giving up an average of 48.1 points a game this season compared to 63.7 last year, it is clear that defense is a priority under new head coach Carla Berube.

“We focus on defense everyday in practice; that is what we spend the most time on,” said Alarie.

“It is just trusting that our teammates will be there for help if you get beat. I think those two things combined make us a good defensive unit.”

Princeton head coach Berube credits her players with adapting quickly to her defensive approach.

“It didn’t take long, they bought in right away,” said Berube. “Even talking throughout the summer, a lot of them were here during camp, and we just started talking about some drills we are going to do and how we are going to play on the ball and things like that. They are into it and excited about it. They trusted our staff and what we are preaching.”

Noting that that Tigers are playing mainly person-to-person with nothing exotic mixed in, Berube said the team’s success at that end of the court comes down to preparation and execution.

“It is how we run it; there are no schemes but we do have different ways of how we defend ball screens, and different ways of how we defend certain personnel that are on the floor at a certain time,” said Berube.

“We do spend a good amount of time getting to know our opponent and what they want to run and what their tendencies are. It has been a work in progress. It is still something we work on everyday in practice because we see on film where there have been some breakdowns and we need to get better at this piece of it.”

Berube acknowledged that she was perturbed when Princeton eased up in the fourth quarter against the Lions.

“It shouldn’t happen but it did; I let it go for a little bit to just see if they could pick it up and then I felt like I had to call a  time out,” said Berube.

“This is not how we play, the energy has to come back. I  thought we were getting some decent shots. Our energy from both ends was not good enough and they knew it.”

Princeton got some good shooting on the night as junior point guard Carlie Littlefield tallied 19 points and sophomore guard  Abby Meyers contributed 10 points off the bench in addition to Alarie’s big game.

“We saved all of the offense from last night and we brought it today,” said Berube, whose team started the weekend by defeating Cornell 60-29 on Friday.

“We were getting some good looks. The way Abby was shooting the ball in the first half was great to see. She was really aggressive. Bella was hitting some shots and then we had Carlie come out in the second half too. I thought we found open players and made some shots.”

Heading to New England this weekend for a first place showdown at Yale (14-4 overall, 5-1 Ivy) on Friday and a game at Brown (7-12 overall, 1-5 Ivy) a day later, Princeton will look to be hitting on all cylinders.

“They are strong; it is going to be a great matchup in New Haven,” said Berube of the clash with Yale.

“We will work really hard this week to get to know them and Brown. It is a big game but to us it is another Ivy League game and they are all really, really important for our season. We just can’t rest on anything. Road trips are a little more difficult than being in your own house and your own bed. We have got to have a great week of practice. I told them to be ready to go on Monday and we will get back to work.

With Princeton having been ranked in the Top 25 this season, Berube likes seeing the program get national recognition but isn’t dwelling on rankings.

“We love it but it is something we can’t control,” said Berube. “Whatever happens, happens. We are just going to do what we can do and just keep on winning ballgames.”

Alarie and her teammates, for their part, are staying in the moment.

“It is reminding ourselves that we have to play it game by game,” said Alarie.

“We have big goals for the future. Obviously every single game we play in this league is really important. That is something the coaches have reiterated a lot to us — night by night, this game is what we are focusing on.”