PHILADELPHIA — Bella Alarie anchored a stellar defensive effort as Princeton used an early knockout blow to win the Ivy League championship.
Alarie had eight points, 17 rebounds and six blocks as the Tigers held the Quakers to just three points in the first quarter of Sunday’s 63-34 win.
“That’s our first goal, defensive plan comes before our offensive plan,” said Alarie, who earned Most Outstanding Player honors of the tournament. “We just had such great defense today, helping each other, blocking shots. … We definitely did put a big focus on our defense today.”
This is the Tigers third trip to the NCAA Tournament in the past four seasons.
Princeton (24-5) scored the game’s first eight points en route to a 19-3 lead after the first quarter. After Penn’s only basket of the period, Abby Meyers scored 11 straight points to close the quarter, hitting three 3-pointers.
“Always want to come out strong and assert your will and utilize the energy of the crowd,” Princeton coach Courtney Banghart said. “We wanted to utilize the momentum of their energy. … Trying to say in basketball terms, being active versus reactive. We were very active coming out of locker room.”
Meyers, a freshman, scored 18 points to lead Princeton.
The Quakers (21-8) missed 13 of their 14 shot attempts in the opening period, hardly looking like a team that had played all season on the famed Palestra court where the Ivy League tournament took place for the second straight year.
“I think if one or two falls, we have a different first quarter, feel a little better going into the second quarter,” Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said. “The disappointment is it wasn’t as competitive as we wanted it to be. It wasn’t as competitive down the stretch as we dreamed of and hoped for.”
Princeton extended the lead to 24-3 before Tori Crawford’s layup ended an eight-minute scoring drought for the Quakers early in the second quarter. Penn scored seven straight points to try and get back in the game, but could get no closer than 14 points in the opening 20 minutes.
The Tigers closed the half up 35-16. Princeton scored eight of the first 10 points in the second half to end any hope of a Penn comeback.
The Quakers beat the Tigers in last season’s inaugural Ivy League tournament that was also held at the Palestra.
Penn had a hard-fought semifinal win over Harvard on Saturday night that seemed to take a lot out of the Quakers. Princeton had a little easier time in its win over Yale and was able to rest its starters for a lot of the fourth quarter in the semis.
Michelle Nwokedi scored 13 points to lead the Quakers.
Penn: The Quakers won a share of the Big 5 title with wins over Temple, Villanova and Saint Joseph’s.
Princeton: The Tigers won both regular season matchups between the teams with double-digit victories.
Penn: Awaits postseason bid.
Princeton: Awaits NCAA Tournament seeding.