After first half momentum runs which Princeton was unable to benefit fully from, a second half surge would be all that the Tiger women’s basketball team needed in a 79-59 victory over Alabama to open the Cavalier Classic Saturday afternoon in Charlottesville, Va.
The win not only marked the first victory in program history over a Southeastern Conference opponent, but more importantly improved Princeton to 8-4 on the year. The Tigers have now won their last five straight and six of their last seven games.
Princeton will now play the winner of the Coppin State – Virginia matchup at either 12 noon or 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. Tournament host UVa will play in the latter game regardless of Saturday’s results.
Kristen Helmstetter extended her scoring tear to finish matching a game high with 21 points, including 13 from the free throw line for a career high. The senior forward has now scored 16 points or more in four of the last five games and is averaging 15.8 points during that span.
She tallied her third double-double of the year with 10 rebounds and matched a career-best with seven assists for a game high. In one of her best performances of the year she only conceded one turnover in 38 minutes of work.
Like a one-two punch with Helmstetter, Blake Dietrick was the team’s second-leading scorer with 17 points, tacking on two of her three triples during crucial first half runs. The point guard played 37 minutes, tallying six assists for a season high, three defensive boards and two steals.
Rounding out Princeton’s top scorers were Michelle Miller and Taylor Williams who had 12 points apiece. Miller had one of her best defensive efforts and finished with a career-high eight rebounds, while Williams met her previous career bests in points and assists (3).
Early in the first half the Tigers went on an 8-2 run led by five Dietrick points to go up 12-9 at 16:08, but they were unable to sustain their effort and Alabama was there with a 5-0 response to retake the lead.
Princeton again put together another solid defensive run, but the offense was unable help the Tigers carry away with a sizeable advantage. The Orange and Black held Alabama scoreless for over five minutes heading inside the 10-minute mark, but could only convert that into an 8-0 rally and a 20-18 lead at 7:57.
Like earlier in the half, the Crimson Tide were there again this time with a 14-6 run to reestablish their lead 30-26 at 4:36, scoring seven of those points off the stripe.
Alabama kept the game within range throughout the first half benefitting from its 11-of-13 free throw shooting, while Princeton struggled to capitalize on its chances and went 8-of-16.
The first half would see six lead changes and the score tied four times, with the final advantage going in favor of Princeton. The Tigers found a final push and went on a 9-0 run to close out the first half, including a great play by freshman Vanessa Smith who picked up the offensive board and dumped in the put-back with multiple defenders on her to send Princeton into the break up 35-30.
Smith provided a great presence off the bench and finished with 10 rebounds, tying a game high and establishing a new personal best, and five points over 19 minutes.
A resurged Princeton side came out of the break rolling to a 16-2 rally to open the second half and take a 51-32 lead at 12:54.
The lead would never change over the second half, as things were clicking on all cylinders for the Tigers and Alabama had no answer. After such a close back-and-forth first half, Princeton outscored the Crimson Tide 44-29 over the final period.
The Tigers finished shooting 45.3 percent (29-for-64) from the field to Alabama’s 33.3 percent (19-for-57) and held a 54-35 rebounding margin. More impressively was Princeton’s assist to turnover ratio of 22 to 9.
Postgame Notes: In addition to being Princeton’s first win over an SEC team, it was the first meeting between the Tigers and Alabama in program history.