April 1, 2020

After Hitting 1,000-Point Mark for PU Women’s Hoops, Littlefield has Unfinished Business as Season Canceled

LITTLE SOLACE: Princeton University women’s basketball player Carlie Littlefield looks to unload the ball in a game this season. Junior point guard Littlefield passed the 1,000-point mark in her Princeton career as the Tigers defeated Columbia 77-52 on March 6 in the last weekend of regular season play. Princeton went on to beat Cornell 69-50 the next day in improving to 26-1 overall and 14-0 Ivy League. Unfortunately, Littlefield didn’t get the chance to add to her total in postseason action as the Ivy tournament and NCAA tourney were subsequently canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

It was the highest of highs and the lowest of lows for Carlie Littlefield and the Princeton University women’s basketball team.

And it all happened in just one week’s time.

Littlefield, the Princeton junior point guard, scored her 1,000th career point in a 77-52 win at Columbia on March 6. The next night, the Tigers finished the Ivy League regular season 14-0 for the fourth time in program history when they defeated Cornell 69-50.

Just three days later, however, the Ivy champions and top seed for the Ivy postseason tournament saw the conference cancel that tournament due to concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak. The following day, Littlefield was named a unanimous first-team All-Ivy selection while Tigers senior forward Bella Alarie was named Player of the Year for the third straight time and first-team All-Ivy, and sophomore guard Julia Cunningham was named honorable mention All-Ivy. First-year head coach Carla Berube was named the Ivy Coach of the Year.

The next day, the entire postseason was erased when the NCAA tournament was canceled before most conference tournaments concluded and before the selection show was held, as a result of the spread of COVID-19.

“I am devastated that our season had to end, but I understand that the situation is bigger than basketball and I appreciate the fact that the NCAA is making everyone’s safety a top priority,” said Littlefield.

“Nonetheless, I couldn’t be prouder of the season we were able to have and all that we were able to accomplish both on and off the court. This season was special and I won’t soon forget it.”

Princeton finished the year 26-1 overall and ranked 17th in the USA Today/WBCA Coaches’ Poll and 22nd in the AP Poll, a nod to their dominance this season. The Tigers closed the year riding a 22-game winning streak, second longest in the country. Their ranking of ninth in the national RPI (rating percentage index) is the highest in Ivy history.

“We won a lot of games,” said Berube, who came to Princeton from Tufts University where she guided the Jumbos to a 384-96 record in 17 seasons while reaching the NCAA Division III final twice, the Final Four four times, and the Sweet 16 nine times.

“You don’t come in thinking you’re going to have this really amazing season. You come in thinking I need to establish what we want to do and try to implement the kind of team we want to have and the kind of program we want. I wanted to get to know the players and have my staff get to know the team. I was hoping, because I knew we had a talented group, that things would be picked up quickly and we could develop a chemistry. It takes some time, but they were already a pretty close knit group from previous seasons.”

Littlefield was one of the important holdovers from former head coach Courtney Banghart’s years. She was proud of the way that the Tigers welcomed Berube and sustained their standard of success.

“We knew that we could control how we responded to the transition, so we all made a conscious effort to stick together and support one another as teammates,” said Littlefield.

“I have to give a lot of credit to the coaching staff as well, as they encouraged a lot of team bonding activities and made an effort to open up to us, which showed how much they cared for us and eased some of the initial nerves.”

Having started at Princeton since her freshman season, Littlefield has shown improvement each year. That progress continued under Berube, who has a reputation for strong relationships with her point guards.

“The main thing that resonates with me about Coach Berube’s coaching style is that she is never satisfied and expects a lot from her point guards,” said Littlefield, a 5’9 native of Waukee, Iowa.
“That has helped me continue to try to learn and get better every day. I have always been proud of the defensive part of my game, so it has also been great to learn from a coach who is very defensive-minded and gets really excited about shutting opponents down. It has truly been a pleasure to work with her and I know that I am a better player and person because of her influence.”

Over the course of the 2019-20 season, Littlefield produced career highs in points per game (13.7), 3-point percentage (.370), free-throw percentage (.762), rebounds per game (4.6), assists per game (3.1), and steals (50). Her leadership, something that can’t be measured in statistics, also improved.

“Since last year, I think I have evolved my all-around game and have become a better floor general,” said Littlefield.

“I have noticed that I have become much comfortable being vocal during practices and games. I also felt like I was much more aggressive in taking shots and scoring this season, which shows that I have gained a better understanding of when the team needs me to be aggressive in scoring the ball and when the team needs me to distribute the ball and get other people shots.”

On the night that Littlefield hit the 1,000-point mark, she tallied 24 points, one short of her single-game career high, and achieved the milestone on an and-one play.

“Scoring my 1,000th point was an incredible feeling because it felt like a testament to the work that my teammates, coaches, and I have put in throughout the course of my career,” said Littlefield.

“It was also really special because my parents were able to come to the game, so being able to share that accomplishment with them and my teammates meant a lot to me.”

Littlefield’s leadership will be even more crucial next year with the void left by the graduation of Tiger senior starters Alarie and Taylor Baur.

“It will be very different without Bella; it has been an honor to play with her for the past three years,” said Littlefield.

“She brought such a dynamic scoring and rebounding ability as well as a fiery competitive spirit that I will miss playing with. It will also be very different without Taylor, our other senior captain, whose grittiness and hustle was contagious. As a team, we have already talked about how we want to carry on their legacy into next season and how we will all have to step up our games in different ways in order to do so.”

Alarie is the third player in Ivy history to be named Player of the Year for a third time. She is the first Princeton player to be a first-team All-Ivy selection all four years, and her place at the top of the program’s Mount Rushmore of players is secure. Alarie has already been named a finalist for both the Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year and the Katrina McClain Power Forward of the Year.

“I’ve followed the Ivy League for many years; I also believe she was the best player ever,” said Berube.

“I feel very fortunate to have coached her and Taylor this season. It’s our starting front court. It’s a lot of points, a lot of rebounds, a lot of blocked shots. We’ll miss most their leadership, their presence, even during the season the team always thought about playing for them, this being their senior year and going out on a great note. They set a high standard of what it takes to be successful. They had tremendous leadership off the court, on the court, whether it was the way they practice every day or the way they brought the team together. At our captains meetings, they had really good insight into their friends and teammates. They always had a really good pulse on what was going on with the team. It made my job easier. We just had to focus on the X’s and O’s and they took care of everything else.”

Littlefield’s growth this season gives Berube confidence that she can pick up the leadership role next year as the star guard came out of her comfort zone this year to become more vocal.

“I thought it was Bella’s team, but Carlie is who gets us going on both ends of the floor,” explained Berube.

“She plays so incredibly hard. She is just a great floor general. She’s a really smart player. I think she’s going to be a tremendous leader. She definitely stepped up into a leadership role this year, which I don’t think leading with her voice comes easy to her. Leading by example does. She found her voice this year and inspired her teammates and I think her teammates really took to her as the floor general.”

It was important that Littlefield didn’t wait until next year to begin to become a leader, taking a vital step in her development this winter.

“To have junior leadership, I think is important, not being in the shadows, but being in the forefront to take her teammates under her wing and show them how it’s done, and how hard we have to work and what it all means,” said Berube.

“She is so competitive in anything she does. She loves Princeton University and the program. To show the younger players what it’s about is important. She stepped up into a really important role and did a really great job.”

With Littlefield at home now in Iowa, as all Princeton students had been ordered to leave campus, she has already turned her thoughts to next season.

“Next year, the biggest emphasis for me will be leadership and leaving the kind of legacy I want to leave on this program,” said Littlefield.

“This program has given so much to me and has had so much success during my time here, so I just want to continue that success and give back to this special program.”

Unfortunately, the Tigers did not get the chance to show on the national stage just how special this year’s team was. Their lone loss was in overtime on the road at Iowa on November 20 and the wins piled up after that. Princeton is looking to next year as a chance to complete some unfinished business from this season, and Littlefield can’t wait for her next opportunity to play and lead the Tigers.

“The way the season ended has really brought the perspective of how finite a basketball career really is to the forefront of my mind,” said Littlefield.

“It definitely taught me to cherish every moment I have with my team and with my loved ones because no game or practice or minute is guaranteed.”