On Friday, Nov. 17, Princeton women’s basketball (2–1, 0–0 Ivy League) returned to California for the first time since 2012 to face off against No. 3 UCLA (4–0, 0–0 PAC-12). Trading leads throughout the game, the matchup did not disappoint, but the Tigers fell short of the upset, 77–74.
For senior guard Kaitlyn Chen, this was her homecoming game. Chen, being from San Marino, California — just about ten miles away from UCLA’s campus — had a large group of supporters at Pauley Pavilion.
“It was a lot of fun to be able to play in front of my family and friends,” said Chen in a recent interview with The Daily Princetonian. “It meant a lot to me seeing them in the crowd.”
Along with Chen, two other Princeton players also returned home. First-year guards Ashley Chea, from Montebello, Calif. and Skye Belker from Los Angeles, Calif. saw support from the crowd.
The game began with a slower start than usual for the Tigers. The team had to figure out how to defend 6-foot-7-inch UCLA center Lauren Betts, with a height that the players have not faced in recent years. Betts took advantage of the size mismatch, scoring a season-high 22 points, with nine coming in the first quarter alone. Betts’s strong start combined with Princeton shooting a mere 20 percent from the field left the Tigers down nine at the end of the first quarter.
Fortunately for the Tigers, they were able to pick it up quite a bit in the second, shooting a whopping 90 percent from the field and outscoring UCLA 27 to 15 in the quarter. After a three-pointer by Belker with around three minutes left in the second, the Tigers held the lead for the rest of the quarter, going into halftime with a 35–32 lead against the Bruins. Belker was key to Princeton’s success in the second, going 3-for-3 from the field, with two three pointers. With Betts out for half of the quarter and only gathering two points in the second, the Tigers were able to take full advantage.
The third quarter was a full-out dog fight. With five lead changes in the period, the game developed into a thriller. Strong showings by Princeton’s Chen and Belker were offset by UCLA’s Betts and guard Charisma Osborne. The competitive third quarter ended in a 56–56 tie, leaving the game up for grabs heading into the final frame.
The fourth quarter played out in a similar competitive fashion to the rest of the game. Despite Princeton being able to hold Betts to two points in the quarter and Chen facilitating lots of offense, the Tigers were unable to keep Osborne quiet as the UCLA guard scored 13 points in the fourth alone.
With just three minutes left in the game, Chen gave the Tigers a two-point lead with a quick layup. On the very next possession, the Bruins grabbed the lead back on a three-pointer from Osborne. They eventually stretched the lead to four heading into the final minute, but with six seconds left, a missed free throw from guard Kiki Rice gave Princeton a chance to tie the game on their final possession. Unfortunately, the Tigers struggled to set up a play off the inbounds pass, and a desperation three from Chen was no-good as the buzzer sounded.
In the 77–74 loss, Chen had herself an incredible game, scoring a game-high 24 points on 9-for-19 from the field. Belker and sophomore guard Madison St. Rose also were key contributors, as Belker had a career-high 20 points shooting 6-for-8 from the field, and St. Rose added 15 points of her own.
Having such high-level competition in the non-conference schedule will help the Tigers greatly as they approach Ivy League play. Chen told the ‘Prince,’ “The experience of playing against a high level team like UCLA will definitely help us prepare for the tough upcoming opponents we play next week and [in] Ivy League play in March. It also gives us confidence, knowing that we can compete with any team.”
Next up, Princeton will finish off its California trip against the University of San Diego (2–1, 0–0 West Coast Conference) on Sunday at 5 p.m. Eastern time.
Allison Ha is a contributing writer for the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’
Please direct any corrections requests to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.