NEW HAVEN, Conn. — There have been plenty of standout players in Ivy League women’s basketball in recent years. A few have even gotten looks from the WNBA. But it’s no stretch to say that there has rarely if ever been a player in the league quite like Bella Alarie.
A junior forward from Bethesda, Md., Alarie — the daughter of former Duke star Mark Alarie — is the two-time reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, and has made the all-Ivy first team in each of her three years at Princeton.
This season, Alarie became the first Ivy player since 1982 to average 23 points per game in a campaign. She also averaged 10.7 rebounds per game. She has gone over 30 points five times this season, and over 40 points twice. And she has delivered when it really matters. In the regular season finale at Yale that clinched a share of the Ivy title, Alarie had 31 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, two blocks and two steals.
No one in the league has been that prolific since Penn’s Diana Caramanico in the early 2000s. And with WNBA scouts now playing close attention to Alarie’s rise, Princeton coach Courtney Banghart puts her star in a league with the last Ivy product to make it in the pros: Allison Feaster, who led Harvard’s historic 16-over-1 upset of Stanford in 1998.
Banghart speaks from experience, having played against Feaster six times while at Dartmouth.
“She was incredibly dominant," Banghart said. “We have a whole new group [of players, compared to last season], so what we needed from Bella was, not exaggerating, like 30 points a night. And I just looked at her in the eye, and I was like, ‘I need 30,’ and she was like, ‘I’ve got you.’ … I know how rare it is, and I’m appreciative that she’s just enjoying it.”
This season, Alarie helped Princeton to a 20-9 record. Seven of those losses came early in the season, when Alarie missed the campaign’s first nine games with a broken right arm. In conference play, the Tigers finished 12-2, tying Penn for the Ivy League title and earning the tournament’s No. 1 seed by the tiebreaker of sweeping No. 3 seed Harvard.
Princeton will play No. 4 seed Cornell in Saturday’s first Ivy League Tournament semifinal (6 p.m., ESPN3).
Even with Alarie’s dominance, this season’s success wasn’t guaranteed. When Penn won at Princeton on Jan. 5, the Tigers’ mood was quite different — and it stuck with them, because due to Princeton’s exam schedule they didn’t play again until Feb. 1.
“The month of January was one of the longest months of our lives," Alarie said. "Tough to sit on that one loss and know we were at the bottom of the league. It really did motivate us to get a lot better over that month. But it does seem like a long time ago. We’re a lot better than we were.”