NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Once again, Princeton star Bella Alarie proved too much for Penn to handle.
The two-time reigning Ivy League Player of the Year had 25 points, six rebounds, and, just as important, five blocks to lead the Tigers to a 65-54 win in the Ivy League Tournament final.
Though the margin was big at the end, the game was close until the final minutes.
Princeton led, 19-17, after the first quarter, with Alarie accounting for 11 points. In the second quarter, the Quakers turned the game in their favor, holding the Tigers scoreless for nearly six minutes, but a Princeton three at the buzzer limited Penn’s lead to 31-30.
The Tigers scored the opening basket of the third quarter, but that was the their only lead of the period. Penn got ahead by seven points with 4-1/2 minutes on the clock, and led, 47-44, when the fourth quarter began.
The fourth quarter was all Tigers, and Alarie was in the middle of a decisive swing in momentum. She had a big block on Penn’s first possession that Gabrielle Rush turned into a fastbreak layup-and-one, and, on Princeton’s next possession, Alarie hit a layup to put the Tigers up, 49-47.
Penn tied the scored at 49-49 and 51-51, but was never able to get back in front. When Princeton freshman Julia Cunningham hit a three-pointer to put the Tigers ahead, 58-52, with 2:19 left, it felt decisive. A minute later, Cunningham extended the lead to 61-53 with a pair of free throws.
At the other end, Penn did not make a field goal in the final 6:28 of the game.
“We kind of got wrapped up in the heat of the moment,” Russell said. “If they would hit a shot, I think it kind of hit our spirit a little bit. We kept trying to fight back, but every time we got an open look, they just weren’t falling. It was a little defeating.”
Russell was Penn’s top scorer with 14 points. Eleah Parker had 10 points, albeit on 5-of-23 shooting, and 11 rebounds. Rush had 18 points for Princeton.
Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said his team intends to play in a postseason tournament. It’s most likely to be the WNIT, though the Quakers have an outside shot at an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. They are 23-6 and rank No. 52 in the RPI. (The women don’t use the NET ranking that the men have.)