March S[imulation]adness: Iowa hosts Princeton in a second-round rematch

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Princeton looks to avenge its only loss

In the first round of the simulated NCAA Tournament, Bella Alarie and her Princeton teammates beat Dayton 68-51, extending their record to 29-1. With that win, coupled with Iowa’s 78-75 win over Abilene Christian, Princeton will get a chance to avenge its only loss of the season.

All the way back on November 20, Princeton gave the Hawkeyes all they could handle in a 77-75 overtime loss at Iowa. Alarie had a game-high 26 points, Iowa All-American Kathleen Doyle had 21, and Princeton guard Julia Cunningham hit a deep 3-pointer that forced overtime.

Now, riding a 25-game win streak, the Tigers are back for a winner-take-all rematch.

Previewing Princeton

Princeton comes into this game riding high from the 17-point victory over Dayton. “I think we felt pretty comfortable on this floor tonight,” head coach Carla Berube said postgame. “The fans in Iowa are so awesome. They love their Hawkeyes and the game of basketball.”

Nobody looked more comfortable than Alarie, who nearly had her first career triple-double with 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists. “I was very pleased with Bella’s play today,” Berube said. “She really showcased why she should be a high WNBA draft pick. She can score the basketball in so many ways, but she’s also incredibly unselfish. She really saw the floor well and set up her teammates for easy buckets.”

Most nights, that assessment could also apply to Doyle, Iowa’s do-everything senior guard. According to Berube, Doyle “is a tough guard for anyone. She’s strong, smart and takes really good care of the ball.” Berube sees lots of room for improvement on defense in this matchup compared to the November game, when Princeton allowed 67 points in regulation – nearly 20 above its season average. “We’ll have to do a better job of containing [Doyle], keeping her off the foul line, and limiting her touches. We’ve also got to do a better job of defending the 3-point line,” Berube said. In the first game between the two teams, Iowa made 10 of 27 attempts (37%) from behind the arc, including five from senior guard Makenzie Meyer on just 10 attempts.

Princeton will also look to get junior point guard Carlie Littlefield more involved on offense than she was in the November matchup. In the regular season, Littlefield averaged nearly 14 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals per game, and Berube has called her “incredibly consistent … and clutch in some of our biggest games.” However, the first-team All-Ivy League player hit only two of 10 shots for four points in the first game against Iowa (though she did grab a team-high seven rebounds).

This time around, she will surely look to impose her will on all facets of the game. She told me earlier this season, “Our team goal is to get to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. We think we can definitely get past the first two rounds playing as we all can.”

Previewing Iowa

Iowa’s first-round win wasn’t as smooth as Princeton’s, but the Hawkeyes did enough to push their record to 24-7 and 16-0 at home. “We got the rust off,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said after her team was idle for nearly two weeks following an early exit in the Big Ten Tournament. Looking ahead to Princeton, “it helps our mindset knowing that we beat them already this year and that we have gone undefeated on our home court.”

It also has to help Iowa’s confidence that Doyle has played so well this season. Bluder remarked, “Kathleen has taken her game to a whole new level. She is scoring, she is defending, she is dishing. I will go to battle with her competitiveness any day.” In the regular season, Doyle’s 6.3 assists per game ranked eighth nationally and first among Big Ten players, and she also led her team in scoring with 18.1 points per game.

Doyle is the headliner, but the Big Ten’s No. 2 team has two other double-figure scorers in sophomore forward Monika Czinano (16.0 points, 5.0 rebounds per game) and Meyer (14.3 points, 4.0 assists per game). Senior forward Amanda Ollinger leads the team with 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game while also adding 6.4 points. Unsurprisingly given all of these options, Iowa ranks third nationally in effective field goal percentage and third in points per scoring attempt, setting up a fascinating clash with the top-ranked Princeton defense.

On the other end of the court, Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder will put Alarie at the top of her scouting report again, and the Hawkeyes hope they can contain her better than in November, when she made 10 of 18 shots. “Bella is a great player. We saw that the first time that we played against her,” Bluder said. “We definitely need to provide help against her and make it a focal point to keep her off the boards.” At the same time, Iowa’s help defenders will need to account for players like Princeton forward Taylor Baur, who had seven rebounds and a team-high four assists in November.

On the Line: A Sweet 16 Berth

Both coaches said that their teams are very different than they were in November, making this a less familiar matchup than it might seem. But both have watched the game film from November—in Berube’s case, “many times”—and will use it to help prepare for the rematch.

A Princeton win would send the Tigers to their first-ever Sweet 16. They have made nine out of the last 11 NCAA Tournaments, but the win over Dayton was just their second win all-time in the NCAA Tournament. Berube said, “I’m really looking forward to the rematch [with Iowa] … Excited to be playing for a trip to the Sweet 16!”

An Iowa win would give the Hawkeyes their eighth Sweet 16 berth in school history and second in as many seasons. Last year as a No. 2 seed, they made the Elite Eight before falling to eventual champion Baylor.

Atlanta Dream head coach Nicki Collen is picking the Tigers. “I think Princeton gets them this time,” she told High Post Hoops. “Princeton’s NCAA-leading defensive points per game is the difference.”

All regular-season statistics are real and are from Her Hoop Stats and the teams’ websites.

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