Mitchell Bonding with High School Rival Alarie, Helping PU Women’s Hoops Clinch Ivy Crown
EL-TRAIN: Princeton University women’s basketball player Ellie Mitchell dribbles the ball upcourt in recent action. Freshman forward Mitchell enjoyed a big game last week as Princeton defeated Penn 80-44 on February 25, tallying 13 points with eight rebounds and six assists. Mitchell and the Tigers went on to defeat Brown 81-39 on Friday and Yale 64-49 a night later to clinch the Ivy League outright regular season title and the top seed in the upcoming league postseason tournament. The 21st-ranked Tigers, now 24-1 overall and 12-0 Ivy, are riding a 21-game winning streak and will complete regular season play with games at Columbia on March 6 and at Cornell on March 7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Justin Feil
Bella Alarie remembers that Ellie Mitchell wore a bow in her hair on the basketball court four years ago.
That memory draws a laugh from the Princeton University women’s basketball teammates who were adversaries back then on rival Independent School League (ISL) teams in the Washington, D.C. area.
“I looked up to her so much when I was a freshman,” said Mitchell, a native of Chevy Chase, Md.
“I heard so many great things about her and to be able to play against her was such a great opportunity. To finally come here and get to play with her has been so much fun. It’s been like a dream come true.”
Alarie was the individual standout for National Cathedral, a Princeton-bound senior who was a scoring and defensive force regardless of what opponents tried. Mitchell was just a freshman then on a dynasty Georgetown Visitation team that this year celebrated its 14th straight ISL championship.
“I remember her being really long and good at defending and she was a beast,” said Alarie, who hails from Bethesda, Md. “She did so much damage. The ball always seemed to end up in her hands.”
In their first meeting of the only season that they played against each other in high school, Alarie had 17 points and Mitchell had 14 in a 76-32 Georgetown win. Mitchell didn’t score as many in their next two meetings, Alarie did, but the team results were the same with Georgetown sweeping all three contests on the year.
“Her team was the best in our league consistently,” said Alarie.
Now the pair is together making Princeton the best team in the Ivy League. Alarie, the senior two-time defending Ivy Player of the Year, had a typical 21-point, 7-rebound, 2-block, 2-assist performance and Mitchell had a very un-bow-wearing-like effort with a career-high 13 points, eight rebounds and a career-high six steals as the Tigers showed just how good they are by dismantling Ivy runner-up Penn in an 80-44 win on February 25.
“They do a tremendous job executing the game plan,” said Princeton head coach Carla Berube of her team that improved to 24-1 overall, 12-0 in the Ivy League with sweeps of Brown and Yale on Friday and Saturday respectively to clinch the Ivy regular season crown.
“And in games things happen, and I think them playing together and communicating with each other and just playing really, really hard Minute 1 through 40, it lends to games like this and a defensive output like this. We have great players on the court and then some come off the bench and make huge contributions like Ellie did and Abby (Meyers) and Maggie (Connolly). I love watching them defend like that. It pleases me because we do spend so much time in practice on it.”
The 6’0 Mitchell helped to contribute to a bench advantage of 38-13 over Penn. Meyers had 11 points and Connolly chipped in nine points.
“Ellie is very fortunate to be playing with Bella this year and learning so much,” said Berube. “Ellie from Day One in November to where she is now is leaps and bounds…except for a little free throw shooting.”
Mitchell shot 5-of-9 from the foul line, above her season percentage, against Penn and she contributed everywhere in the box score and in ways that were harder to measure. Not only did Alarie and Mitchell combine for 34 points and 15 rebounds, but they took turns slowing down Penn’s top scorer, Kayla Padilla, a quick and shifty guard who finished with a game-high 24 points, but had none in the fourth quarter.
“I was definitely a little shocked at first because obviously I’m more of a post than a guard,” said Mitchell of the defensive assignment. “I was just trying to keep the ball out of her hands because if she doesn’t have the ball in her hands, she can’t do as much damage. I was working to deny her in all possible ways.”
The two are part of a Princeton team that is ranked No. 1 in scoring defense nationally (47.4 points a game). Penn got another dose of it in their second shot at the Tigers. Padilla scored with 2:49 left in the first quarter to cut Princeton’s lead to 12-8. Princeton wouldn’t allow another Penn point for the next 9:16 as they built a 32-8 lead that looked insurmountable with the way the Tigers were playing defense.
“I think we’re really fortunate,” said Berube. “Our defense, we have really good athletes who can defend on the court. Both Bella and Ellie were able to guard Padilla for a bit. It puts us in a good position that they can guard anyone on the court and play really, really hard at all times.”
Against the Quakers, Princeton led, 34-13, at halftime, a far more impressive first half defensively than it played in the first meeting of the season at Penn on January 11 when the Tigers led 33-30 at intermission before pulling away with a huge second half for a 75-55 win.
“I thought we played really hard and got out on shooters, didn’t let them get in a rhythm and our post players did a tremendous job limiting their touches inside, and both (Tori) Crawford and (Eleah) Parker do so much damage on the boards and we did a good job of boxing them out and keeping them from getting easy scoring opportunities inside,” said Berube.
“Clearly Padilla is really, really good, and we had to figure out ways to defend her. We put our bigs on her and I thought we did a much better job. We’ve grown a lot since January 11 too. That was quite a while ago. We’ve gotten better and our defense has gotten better. And now I’m getting to know the league and my staff is getting to know the league so when you play a team the second time around you know them better. I thought our team did too, and I thought we did a really good job executing our game plan.”
Penn had its most successful offensive frame of the season against Princeton with 18 points in the third quarter, but the Tigers still held a 51-31 lead going into the fourth quarter. From there, Princeton proceeded to open up an even wider gap in the fourth quarter on the team that is second-best in the Ivies.
“We want to be the best defensive team that we can be, and we have our key words that we stick to and it’s been working this whole season so we continue to use that every night,” said Alarie of the defensive effort.
“We scout teams really well and we play as a team on defense. It helps a lot to get stops because it makes offense way less stressful. It gives us momentum going to the other end.”
The final score was eerily similar against Brown on Friday, an 81-39 drubbing in which Princeton allowed only 12 first-half points so it could cruise home in the fourth quarter again. Yale actually led the Tigers after the first quarter on Saturday before Princeton displayed its dominance in a 64-49 win. The wins over Brown and Yale ran Princeton’s win streak to 20-straight games.
“We want to crush teams and play to the best of our ability,” said Alarie. “I’m happy blowing teams out like that and feeling a nice cushion at the end of the game. We want to assert ourselves and show the league and the NCAA what we’re made of. I’m very happy to beat teams by that much.”
The win over Penn enabled Princeton to become the first team to clinch a spot for the four-team Ivy League postseason tournament to decide the automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. Princeton, now ranked 21st nationally, will be the top seed after locking up first-place for the season with its win over Brown. Harvard hosts the tournament this year.
“It’s great,” said Berube. “There are going to be four teams that don’t make it. Don’t take anything for granted and let’s celebrate that we are going to be heading to Cambridge in a couple weeks. We’re excited for that opportunity.”
Mitchell has been soaking in every chance that she gets in her first year. She fits well into the Princeton mold. She brings toughness and versatility on the defensive end with skill and selflessness on the offensive end. She is averaging 5.2 points and 6.3 rebounds in 17 minutes per game off the bench in transitioning well from high school to college.
“College basketball requires a lot more thinking,” said Mitchell. “Everything is a lot more fast paced. It’s adjusting to this new type of basketball play and a new role. I’m giving my best and helping out wherever I can. It’s been really fun.”
Making the most of her chance to play with the Tigers and Alarie, Mitchell is contributing significantly to a Princeton team that has stamped itself as a powerhouse this winter.
“I would say it’s exceeded everything,” said Mitchell. “It’s been so much. I’m just happy to be able to contribute in any way and I just love the team. It’s a great place to be. I’m very fortunate.”