Though it has won each of its last five games by 11 or more points, the women’s basketball team finds itself in an unusually precarious position going into next weekend. For the first time in recent memory, the Tigers will face a must-win situation in an Ivy League game when they travel to Cambridge on Feb. 22.
Winners of four straight Ivy titles, the Tigers have lost just three league games since the 2009-10 season, all to Harvard. When the Crimson broke their 33-game conference winning streak last season, it was disappointing for Princeton but came late enough in the season that it wasn’t much cause for alarm. The Tigers still had a better record than the Crimson, which came into the game with two losses, and easily did away with their four remaining opponents to win the league.
This year, however, a late-season slip-up against Harvard could be fatal to the Tigers’ postseason hopes. On Jan. 31, the Crimson handed the Tigers their first home league loss since 2009 and did so rather convincingly. (Harvard lost at Penn the following night, the Crimson’s only Ivy loss to date; Penn also has one loss, to the Tigers.) Last year’s Princeton-Harvard game in Cambridge was decided by three points — Harvard won by hitting its free throws down the stretch and the game would have gone to overtime if either forward Kristen Helmstetter ’14 or guard Blake Dietrick ’15 had hit the three-pointers they attempted as the clock ran down. Last month in Jadwin Gymnasium, however, it was very much Harvard’s game, with the Crimson going up by as much as 18 and winning 78-68.
Harvard held Helmstetter and Dietrick, who have emerged as the Tigers’ dynamic duo this year, to seven and eight points, respectively. Meanwhile, Harvard guard Christine Clarke had a monster night with 25 points and five rebounds. Clarke’s 16.7 points per game clip is the best in the league, while Dietrick’s 16 puts her at third.
Both players seem set to have another big night next weekend. Clarke has scored 41 points in her last two games, while Dietrick has looked even better. She set a personal best with 27 points against Brown Friday night, but the record did not last long. The next night, as the Tigers put up their highest points total of the season — 96 — against Yale, Dietrick outdid herself with 28 points. She also contributed six assists and six rebounds, and made 50 percent of her shots from beyond the arc.