#25 Villanova Wildcats (5-0) vs. Princeton Tigers (3-1)
When: Wednesday, November 29, 2017, at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Jadwin Gymnasium, Princeton, N.J.
Coverage: Stream on Ivy League Network ($)
Princeton's Previous Season Record: 16-14, Lost to Villanova in opening round of WNIT, Lost to Penn in Ivy League championship game
Key Players for the Tigers: #31 Bella Alarie (6-4) So., G/F; #45 Leslie Robinson (6-0) Sr., F; #32 Tia Weledji (5-10) Sr., G
A lot of the faces and key players remain the same from just a season ago, when the Tigers last faced off against the Wildcats in the WNIT opener. Villanova had just edged out Princeton, winning by six to advance to the next round. For the Tigers, everything starts and ends with super sophomore Bella Alarie, who burst onto the scene as a freshman last year. Alarie proved to be one of Princeton's top players and contributors right from the season opening tip, as she was immediately plugged into the starting lineup and became a unanimous Ivy League Rookie of the Year winner. A top 100 and four-star recruit coming out of high school, she led the Tigers in scoring, rebounding, and blocks, with her impressive combination of size and ball skills as a 6-foot-4 player leading the way. Affectionately referred to as "Bella Buckets" by her teammates, she has only built on her already impressive performance from last season and seems to be even more formidable as a player on the court. She's had a double-double in each of Princeton's last three games--bookended by a couple of 20-point performances. So far this season, she's averaging a team-high 17.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, and 1.5 steals, all while shooting an efficient 53.3 percent on the floor. She is an all-around star, but by no means the Tigers' only lifeline. The ball does end up in her hands a lot, but she is a smart player--one that doesn't take an overwhelming amount of shots, not a volume scorer, or ball hog by any means.
Tia Weledji is now a full-time starter as a senior and is relishing in a much bigger role. She played in every game last season, but only made 11 starts, now she's the second-highest scorer behind Alarie. Weledji is mostly an offensive-type of player, one that can score inside or from deep. She is a streaky player, one that can get dangerous when she heats up, but also disappear if she's having an off-night. Also keep an eye out for Leslie Robinson, another experienced senior. She's off to a bit of a slow start in comparison to her numbers last season, but she provides a great interior scoring and rebounding presence. Nevertheless, she's a solid frontcourt player that adds a certain level of toughness.
Aside from these experienced veterans, Princeton has a couple of first-year players that are doing pretty well so far. Carlie Littlefield and Abby Meyers are already making a splash, both have already been selected as an Ivy League Rookie of the Week in this young season. Littlefield, a point guard from Iowa, is a two-way guard. She excelled at generating steals and turnovers in high school and that craftiness has carried over. She does turn the ball over a bit, but that's part of the learning curve that comes with being a freshman. Meanwhile, Meyers is a shooting guard that adds a presence from deep.
Two teams with contrasting styles are facing off on Wednesday night at Jadwin Gymnasium. The Tigers like to work inside-out, not relying too heavily on three-pointers. Meanwhile, Villanova will launch from deep all-game long and ask questions later.
In the Wildcats-Tigers' previous meeting, Villanova managed to beat Princeton by six. The Wildcats didn't shoot all that well from deep--a mediocre 6-of-30 (20 percent). However, their defensive effort was great. They restricted Alarie to nine points off of 2-of-8 shooting. Robinson ended up doing the most damage with 14 points, but wasn't all that efficient--just 7-of-17 on the floor. Overall, the Tigers shot just 31.6 percent.
Villanova will need to replicate that same intensity on defense. Alarie looks even better than she did last year. The Tigers will likely come out hungry, as they've been off to a solid start as well and a win over a ranked team--and the one that knocked them out in last year's WNIT--would do wonders for their confidence.
The Wildcats may have a limited inside game--one that forces them to fall in love with the three-point shot--or get beat up on the boards, but overall, their defense has been great. They've been able to bear down, even when getting outrebounded or giving up second chance opportunities. Opponents have shot just 32.7 percent on the 'Cats, which is the 14th-best defensively in the country.
If the threes fall at will like they did in the second half of the Duke game, great. If not, Villanova's found ways to win even when the threes aren't dropping through defense and a strong effort on that end will be needed to contain Alarie and Co.
First game back in the polls since 2004, I just can’t see Harry Perretta’s squad allowing a letdown after that.