BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Abby Meyers made the most of her last trip to the NCAA Tournament, giving the Princeton women's team its second-ever win.
She set a career-high with 29 points to lead No. 11-seed Princeton to a 69-62 victory over sixth-seeded Kentucky on Saturday. The Wildcats beat the Tigers in the opening round of the 2019 tournament.
“We all grow up dreaming about playing on this stage in Division I basketball in the NCAA Tournament, and for us to finally be here… some of us the first time, it’s a special moment,” the Ivy League Player of the Year said.
This was Princeton’s first trip to the NCAA since 2019 after the 2020 tournament was canceled by the coronavirus pandemic and the Ivy League opted not to play sports last year. Sophomore Kaitlyn Chen received an outlet pass and dribbled out the final seconds of the clock, she bounced in sync with the ball. Her teammates on the court huddled with the guard, and then the rest of the Tigers players joined in at the buzzer.
Chen, who added 17 points, said despite missing out on last season never once thought of leaving.
“It’s honestly just been so much fun playing with this team,” said Chen, a top 100 high school recruit who missed out on her freshman season. “We always play to like have fun because we enjoy playing with each other, and we are proud of each other’s success. That’s what makes it seem so special.”
The Tigers (25-4) have won 18 straight games and never trailed after the first quarter. They led by as many as nine points three times in the fourth quarter. However, it was a grueling battle to knock off the Wildcats (19-12), who entered the tournament winners of 10 straight – and the last three against teams ranked in the AP Top 25.
The Tigers won their other NCAA game in 2015 when they were undefeated heading to the tournament. They lost to Maryland in the second round that year.
Princeton shot 60% in the first half. That helped offset 12 turnovers in the first 20 minutes. The Tigers held on despite missing seven of their last eight shots and going without a bucket for the final 4:37.
“It was a battle from start to finish,” Princeton coach Carla Berube said. “They certainly rattled us for a bit in the first half and the first quarter, but I think we got our footing and you know, made some plays on both ends of the floor.”
Meyers scored 11 of the Tigers' last 12 points. After draining a 3-pointer to make it 62-54 with 4:37 remaining, the senior and Ivy League player of the year made 6-of-8 free throws in the final 3:13 – including 5-of-6 in the final :28 – to thwart a Kentucky comeback.
It was a struggle for both teams to put the ball in the basket at the end. UK also missed seven of its last eight shots and went without one over the last 4:04.
Three-time All-American Rhyne Howard led Kentucky with 17 points. However, she struggled, going 4-for-14 from the floor. She also only scored three in the first half, and that was on a 3-pointer at the end of the half to make it a 32-26 game at halftime.
Dre’una Edwards added 16 points and 12 rebounds, but the redshirt junior made just 6-of-15 shots. Kentucky shot just 35.7%.
“I think we just hit shots in the SEC Tournament,” said Edwards. Some things didn’t go our way today. We just got to finish on our end.”
The loss is a stinging end to what had been a remarkable turnaround in the last five weeks. After losing eight of nine games earlier this year and finding themselves well outside any talk of a tournament bid, coach Kyra Elzy’s team went on a historic run that culminated with the school’s first SEC Tournament title in 40 years.
“I told the players in the locker room, ‘In this moment, it hurts,’” the second-year coach said. “But when we have a chance to look back, I just told them how much I love them, how proud I am of them. When we were dead in the water, this team could have laid down and quit, and we did something really special.”
So, too, did the Tigers, who get to stick around Bloomington for a couple more days. They’ll face Indiana in a second-round matchup on Monday in hopes of claiming their first berth to the Sweet 16.
Berube and Elzy share some women's basketball history. Elzy's Tennessee team ended the perfect season for Berube and her UConn teammates in the 1997 Elite Eight. The silver anniversary of that game is next week.
She told her coaches and staff about that connection.
“Just a little tidbit there," she said. “No, I don't remember that game at all.”
Almost 25 years later, Berube was able to exact some revenge, and Elzy, who seemed to have taken Saturday's loss hard, finally allowed herself to smile when she was told Berube brought it up in her press conference.
Elzy said she hadn't thought about that until just then.
“So, that's like a double dagger,” she said.