After cracking the top 25 for the first time since 2004, the Wildcats’ first game with that distinction came against a familiar foe.
Adding the little number next to “Villanova” widened the target on the Wildcats’ backs, but for Princeton—it was a little more personal.
Villanova ended the Tigers’ season last year, after knocking them out in the opening round of the WNIT.
Since then, Princeton has grown a lot and its star forward, sophomore Bella Alarie, had shown tremendous strides in developing her game. However, on Wednesday night at Jadwin Gymnasium, Villanova proved it was still better.
With approximately two seconds left in the game, Princeton’s Gabrielle Rush pulled up to attempt a game-tying three-pointer. Wildcat sophomore Bridget Herlihy was able to get her hand on it, disrupting the shot. The ball fell into the hands of Mary Gedaka, sealing an exciting 62-59 win.
Villanova trailed for a majority of the game, but managed to keep it relatively close to the Tigers.
Alarie, a 6-foot-4 forward, had been problematic for Villanova all night. The reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year made quite the splash as a freshman last year. Now, she’s at the forefront of a Princeton squad that will look to contend for an Ivy League title.
The Wildcats contained her in their previous meeting, this time around—she would not be silenced.
A versatile player, Alarie is able to play almost any position on the floor. It felt like she was everywhere, tallying 29 points of 10-of-13 shooting, nine rebounds, three blocks and a pair of steals.
While she enjoyed a great game, her teammates struggled in the face of the Wildcat defense. Villanova limited the other Tigers to shooting a combined 13-of-44 (29.5 percent), allowing it to keep the game within reach. On the other end of the court, the Wildcats played well as a team offensively, spreading the damage around.
Princeton held a narrow 30-29 lead at halftime.
It wasn’t until the final 2:15 of the third quarter that Villanova would get ahead. The Wildcats got off to a 9-2 run—highlighted by scoring from Herlihy, Gedaka, Kelly Jekot—to take a 48-46 lead going into the fourth.
The Wildcats would push their lead to as high as nine after a pair of of Alex Louin free throws, making it 62-53 with 4:03 remaining.
Like it did in recent games, Villanova went cold coming down the stretch. The Wildcats would never score another basket from that point on, and the Tigers refused to go away quietly.
A series of free throws by Alarie and a layup by Abby Meyers made it a three-point game with just 40 seconds left.
The tense exchange came to a conclusion, when Herlihy had her game-saving block, allowing the Wildcats to win the game and stay undefeated.
Louin led the ‘Cats with a 16-point performance. Adrianna Hahn added 15 points and seven rebounds. Gedaka chipped in 12 points off the bench, shooting 5-of-7 on the floor.
As a team, the Wildcats shot well overall. They went a combined 23-for-49 (46.9 percent) and 7-for-16 (43.8 percent) from long range.
Up next for the Wildcats is their Big 5 opener. They return home to host rival St. Joseph’s on Sunday, Dec. 3. Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m.