PRINCETON, N.J. (AP) — Alyssa Baron and her Penn teammates never stopped believing they could win an Ivy Championship.
Even after the Quakers were blown out at home to four-time defending champion Princeton in the league opener, they still felt that they had all the right pieces for a title run.
They were right.
Baron scored 23 points and Sydney Stipanovich added 19 to lead Penn to an 80-64 win over rival Princeton on Tuesday night and give the Quakers the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
“It’s a huge accomplishment, an overall team effort,” Baron said. “It’s what I’ve been dreaming about for four years. We’ve been building the pieces of the puzzle and now we finally have it.”
It’s Penn’s first title since the 2003-04 season and the Quakers ended the Tigers’ stranglehold atop the conference. Princeton had won the previous four league championships.
While Penn had a brief oncourt celebration postgame, the Quakers would have to wait until they got back to the Palestra later Tuesday night to cut down the nets. League rules don’t allow visiting teams to do that.
“We’re excited to get back there and celebrate with our fans,” Quakers coach Mike McLaughlin said.
Tuesday night’s game marked only the second time in league history that the final game of the regular season decided the champion. The previous time came in 1995 when the championship came down to the final game between Harvard and Dartmouth.
“The way it set up tonight was a perfect storm,” McLaughlin said. “It was a great atmosphere for women’s basketball. To have two 11-2 teams. I don’t know that these guys could have scripted it any better.”
The Ivy League is the only conference in the country that doesn’t have a postseason tournament to decide its champion.
“I’m not a fan of an Ivy tournament. The reason is we need to send our best teams,” Princeton coach Courtney Banghart said. “Imagine if Penn had lost to Dartmouth and we had lost to Brown and we’re not sending our best team. I feel confident Penn has earned it. They beat us on our home floor later in the season.”
Princeton had won the past 11 meetings, including an 84-53 romp in early January and the Quakers hadn’t won in Jadwin Gymnasium since 2005 and that took double overtime.
The Tigers (20-8, 11-3) didn’t look like the same team from the first meeting of the season as Penn (22-6, 12-2 Ivy League) took control of the game early. The Quakers held Princeton without a point for more than 7 minutes in the first half to build a 16-5 lead.
Princeton was able to get back within seven on Blake Dietrick’s 3-pointer with 6:30 left in the half, but Baron answered with a three-point play and a 3-pointer to restore the double-digit lead. The Quakers led 32-19 at the half.
The Tigers scored the first four points of the second half and looked poised to make a run at the Quakers, but consecutive 3-pointers by Kathleen Roche and Baron started a 10-2 run that gave Penn a 42-25 lead.
Princeton sophomore Annie Tarakchian scored seven straight points to give the Tigers some life. Her layup made it a 10-point game with 14 minutes left.
But Penn wouldn’t fold, answering every basket the Tigers hit.
Princeton could only get within nine the rest of the way.
“They got the leadership they needed when they needed it,” Banghart said. “I’m proud of them. They are good kids and play hard. They’ll represent our league well.”
The victory capped a five-year turnaround for the Quakers under McLaughlin. The school won two games his first season. Now they have a third Ivy League championship.
“I’m super proud of them,” McLaughlin said. “I have a great deal of respect for Courtney and what she’s done here. It’s amazing to do what she’s done for four straight years. We had to be really good tonight to knock them off. I feel we were really good tonight.”
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