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Women's basketball drops final to Penn, fails to secure fifth straight crown

With the Ivy League Championship on the line, women’s basketball (20-8 overall, 11-3 Iv Leaguey) took to Jadwin Gymnasium in an all-or-nothing showdown with the Penn Quakers (21-6, 11-2). The Ivy League has been an orange and black league over the past four years. That is to say, before this Tuesday, you would have to look back to the previous decade to find a non-Princeton Ivy champion. In Princeton’s Ivy opener, the traveling Tigers thrashed the Quakers by a score of 84-53 at Penn’s Palestra. January’s contest saw the visitors jump out to a double-digit lead going into the half with a 38-25 advantage. This imbalance was reversed in Tuesday’s matchup, as the visiting Quakers controlled possession through the first period and had racked up a 32-19 lead by the time the halftime buzzer sounded. By a final score of 80-64, Penn took the Ivy League crown for the 2013-2014 season.

A 43.8 percent first half field goal rate from the visitors far outpaced Princeton’s 32.0 percent. Additionally, the Tigers failed to convert all three of their first half free throw attempts. The gap in efficiency did not improve in the second half for the home side, which shot 37.5 percent through 40 minutes. This mark falls short of their prior season mark of 47.6.

On offense, the Tigers mainly fell victim to sloppy play. 12 first half turnovers led to 19 points for the Quakers. The reigning league champs refined their offense in the second half, turning the ball over four times.

Junior guard Blake Dietrick ran the point for the starting five. The Penn goal appeared to be limiting the shots and shot quality of Princeton’s scoring threat. Her shot with 8:30 on the clock finally took the Tigers to double digits, and her next field goal from beyond the arc would be her team’s next points. Penn’s point guard Meghan McCullough took the defensive assignment, but her solid defense was not enough to shut down one of the league’s top scorers. The Wellesley native played all 40 minutes for her team and registered a team-leading 14 points.

On defense, the Tigers had no answer for Penn’s standouts guard Alyssa Baron and center Sydney Stipanovich. The pair played all 40 minutes for the visitors. Baron was coldblooded throughout the contest, converting all seven of her free throw attempts and tallying a game-leading 23 points. Starting guard Kathleen Roche also added a vital four offensive boards for her side in addition to her 17 points.

Stipanovich with her 6′ 3″ frame registered an impressive nine rebounds, which tied for the game-high. Her 19 points came from everywhere inside the three-point arc, as opposing defenders struggled to close down her rangy shot.

Princeton came out shooting with uncharacteristically low efficiency. The slow offensive start, coupled with Penn’s dozen points off of turnovers meant the home side would have to play catch-up for the entirety of the first half. In fact, there was no point in the contest when the Tigers led.

It took until 1:12 remained in the first half for Princeton to secure its first points off a turnover, as freshman guard Vanessa Smith intercepted a Quaker pass and drove down the court for a strong finish. This cut the lead to 30-19, but the Tigers would not be able to cut it further before the halftime buzzer sounded.

By halftime, it became apparent that the Quakers’ strength lay in their starting five. Through 20 minutes no bench player scored for the visitors. And despite a sloppy first half, a 13-point deficit still did not appear insurmountable for a Princeton offense which had had its way with teams around the league.

At the beginning of the second the Quakers found holes in the Tigers’ zone and fired off a pair of threes to extend their lead. Things did not get better through the first three or so minutes of play before head coach Courtney Banghart called timeout at the 16:48 mark, attempting to stop the bleeding. The first sign of Tiger life in the second period came from sophomore guard-forward Annie Tarakchian, who hit three consecutive shots and drew a foul to account for seven Princeton points. She finished the contest with 12 points.

It took until 8:55 for the Tigers to cut their opponents lead back to single digits. On the very next possession, Penn’s forward Kara Bonenberger converted a layup and a subsequent free throw. By this point, it was clear that the Tigers would need offense fast, but none appeared forthcoming.

With five minutes remaining, the Tigers needed stops but they were unable to hold back the Quaker offense, which kept a double-digit cushion all the way through the contest’s conclusion.

Late in the contest, the Tigers ran up against the foul limit. They faced the dilemma of being forced to play aggressive defense while likely giving up bonus attempts. By the two-minute mark, a win was likely out of reach for the home side, which fought hard through the final minutes of play, but could not find a scoring rhythm.

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