Stone Hits High Notes for PU Women’s Hoops, Helping Tigers Rally Past Harvard on Senior Night
STONE AGE: Princeton University women’s basketball player Grace Stone puts up a shot in recent action. Last Friday, senior star Stone scored 13 points and had four rebounds to help Princeton rally from a 10-point halftime deficit to earn a 51-47 win over Harvard. The Tigers, now 20-5 overall and 11-2 Ivy League, play at Penn on March 3 in their regular season finale. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Grace Stone experienced some extra nerves to go with the emotions she was feeling as the Princeton University women’s basketball program held its annual Senior Night celebration last Friday when it hosted Harvard.
After each member of the team’s Class of 2023 was introduced, Tiger senior guard/forward Stone grabbed a mic and sang a duet of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” with her mother Karen Stone before the crowd of 1,744 at Jadwin Gym.
“I have never really sung in front of anybody before like that,” said Stone. “She really, really wanted me to sing with her; that song means a lot to us and our family. I know it meant a lot to her so I really wanted to do it. It felt special.”
It was a special evening for Stone and her classmates as they dealt with some mixed emotions.
“It is hard because we are celebrating our journey at Princeton and then you have all of these celebrations with our parents and loved ones and then you have to go and play a basketball game,” said Stone, a 5’11 native of Glen Cove, N.Y. “It was mostly just taking that in, being a little sad, being a little reminiscent and then just getting ready to play.”
Harvard came out ready to play, outscoring the Tigers 16-8 in the second quarter as they built a 30-20 halftime lead.
“Harvard is a really good team, they really speed you up on both ends of the floor,” said Stone. “They were pressuring us a lot and we weren’t really getting into the stuff that we wanted to run offensively. Defensively, we just weren’t finishing plays, we weren’t ending box outs. We were getting caught on screens a lot so they were getting threes. At halftime, we just told ourselves, stick to our Tiger principles, play hard, chase screens, get our hands up, and finish plays.”
Stone played very well in the third quarter, scoring seven points and picking up an assist as the Tigers outscored the Crimson 15-9 in the period.
“I was just getting it on the low block and trying to see what they were giving me,” said Stone reflecting on her third quarter outburst. “I have been practicing being in that position a lot and trying to be aggressive with the ball, spotting up on the three when I can and just trying to make it.”
Princeton closed the deal, overcoming the Crimson down the stretch to pull out a 51-47 win, improving to 20-5 overall and 11-2 Ivy League.
“It was stop, stop, stop — we forced 23 turnovers,” said Stone. “I think that is the biggest thing. We know in big games, close games our defense is going to win it for us. That is what did it.”
Stone contributed a key bucket in the rally, converting a pass from Kaitlyn Chen to draw the Tigers to within 46-43 midway through the fourth quarter.
“I just waiting there, I didn’t know how she was going to get it to me,” recalled Stone. “She said she saw me, I trusted the process on that one.”
Having lost to Harvard 67-59 on December 31 in the Ivy opener, Princeton was fired up for the rematch.
“They left a bad taste in our mouth, we wanted to beat them,” said Stone. “We know that there is potential to see them in the (Ivy) tournament. It is always going to be a good game with them. We really wanted it — I think that showed.”
Getting some vociferous cheering from the Jadwin crowd helped spur the rally for the Tigers
“I don’t know if I have had a crowd that big in my Princeton career,” said Stone. “To have it on my Senior Night when they are honoring us and our journey, it meant so much to have the support from the community, from the student athletes and from everyone. I just thought was incredible. We needed that energy — it was really huge.”
It meant a lot for Stone and fellow seniors Julia Cunningham, Maggie Connolly, Kira Emsbo, and Lexi Weger to all be in the starting lineup against Harvard.
“It has been a really long ride for us, five years basically, they are like my best friends,” said Stone. “It means the world to me to be able to come into the gym every day with them and just grind and then hang out with them afterwards and laugh and cry. Everything about it is incredible that we still get to keep playing.”
Princeton head coach Carla Berube credited her senior group with making an incredible contribution to the program.
“They are amazing, they have just been great teammates; Julia and Maggie are captains but all five of them are really great leaders,” said Berube. “They just embody what we are all about — just playing hard, playing together, and playing for each other. They bring great energy, they bring positivity, they do whatever we need to be successful. Sometimes it is in games but a lot of times it is practice or off the court being a great teammate. They have been amazing, I can’t say enough about them. They are just really special people.”
Falling behind Harvard, the Tigers needed to be more energetic at both ends to get back into the contest.
“It was a couple of things; I thought we just needed to take better care of the basketball and do a better job on the defensive end,” said Berube. “We were allowing them open looks, our hands were down. They were getting open threes. It is a big game and you are playing for your seniors. You know this is important, it is a lot of emotion. Sometimes the first half is tough. I thought we regrouped really well at halftime and in that third quarter, we were so much better.”
Berube was not surprised to see Stone step up in the third quarter.
“Grace certainly was a spark and that is what she can do,” said Berube of Stone who ended up with 13 points and four rebounds in the win. “All of a sudden, she can take over a game defensively and making threes. She was awesome.”
The Tiger defense tightened up down the stretch. “There wasn’t anything that we had to talk about that we thought they were beating us on,” said Berube. “It was just, ‘let’s play a little more fundamentally sound and stick to our principles.’ That is what you saw in the third and fourth quarter. When we needed to get stops, we got the stops.”
Junior guard Chen gave Princeton what it needed offensively, scoring a team-high 18 points with eight in the fourth quarter and the go-ahead layup with 19 seconds left in regulation.
“Kaitlyn was huge, she just finds a way; she is falling down, whatever it is,” said Berube. “Credit to Harvard, their defense was really tough. They are aggressive, they are long, and they made everything really, really difficult for us. But Kaitlyn Chen is Kaitlyn Chen and she just finds ways.”
Finding a way to turn the tables on Harvard was a big motivation for the Tigers.
“Our team really wanted this game because we didn’t have a great showing up there,” said Berube. “We wanted to play a lot better and we did. It was good enough.”
With Princeton hosting the Ivy postseason tourney from March 10-12, Berube is hoping the Tigers can keep getting better and better.
“It was a great crowd, we can’t wait for two weeks from now,” said Berube, whose team is locked in a first place tie with Columbia in the Ivy standings and plays at Penn on March 3 in its regular season finale. “We just have to take care of business next Friday, it is a big game. It is probably going to be their Senior Day, the Palestra is hard to play in. Hopefully we will have a great week of practice and be ready for that.”
Stone believes that the win over Harvard shows that the Tigers are ready for a big postseason run.
“We have been in close games this season, our non-conference wasn’t easy,” said Stone. “We found ourselves in a lot of close games. We are prepared for this, I think that showed in our end of game situation today. I think we are prepared, I think it is good for us. We really want to come out and bring our best now.”