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Kali Duffy / Senior Staff Photographer

Senior forward Camille Zimmerman has paced the Lions all season long, averaging 20 points per contest, and will hope to lead the team in two difficult matchups this weekend.

Women’s basketball will begin its Ancient Eight season on the road this weekend, facing Princeton and Penn. After a challenging preseason schedule, the Lions will look to build on their 6-9 record to begin the season.

The Light Blue (6-9, 0-0 Ivy) heads into its first match of the weekend against Princeton after losing four of its last five contests. Columbia will need to perform at its best to break that dry spell as it travels to face last year’s conference runner-up in Princeton (11-3, 1-0 Ivy) and winner in Penn (6-5, 0-1 Ivy)

After playing a mix of major and mid-major programs this preseason, Princeton posted an impressive 11-3 record in nonconference play. The Tigers are heading into this weekend’s matchup against the Lions after winning five consecutive matches, including their Ivy opener against Penn last Saturday.

Points will be hard to come by for the Light Blue, as Princeton’s league-leading defense has held opponents to an average of 54.3 points per game and just 37 percent shooting from the field. The Lions will depend on senior forward Camille Zimmerman, who leads the Ivy League in scoring with an average of 20 points per contest.

Beyond Zimmerman, the Lions will also look to one of their newest members: first-year guard Riley Casey. Though her performance has recently lagged, Casey emerged as a crucial scorer for the Lions early in the year.

Junior guard Abby Lee and senior guard Paige Tippet have provided sharpshooting at times in the preseason for Columbia, but they will need to perform more consistently to achieve a top-four finish for the Light Blue and a spot in the second-ever Ivy League tournament.

Following their Friday evening contest in Princeton, the Lions will travel to the Palestra, where they will take on the Penn Quakers, the conference’s defending champions, on Saturday evening.

With an Ivy-low average of 13.1 turnovers per game, Penn will present the Light Blue with few offensive opportunities, and Columbia will need to minimize its errors and adjust its offensive approach accordingly.

Instead of trying to force turnovers with full-court pressure, the Light Blue could have more success coercing the Quakers into taking bad shots. The Lions have had little trouble stopping teams from the perimeter, holding teams to only a 27 percent shooting success rate from behind the three-point line, the best of any defense in the league.

Columbia has struggled on the interior, allowing teams to shoot an average just under 41 percent from the field, but if junior forward Josie Little, who recorded 21 rebounds and four blocks in just five games this season, is able to play, she could fill that gap in the Lions’ defense.

Overall, the Lions are looking to bounce back from a dismal 3-11 Ivy record last season. So far, the Light Blue’s hopes have ridden on the team’s star, Zimmerman, but Columbia has many strong players who could prove themselves in the coming weeks. Despite its shortcomings, the Lions have the potential to shake up the conference table and earn entry to the 2018 Ivy League tournament in hopes of the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament bid.

Columbia will start its conference schedule with a game at Princeton on Friday at 5:30 p.m. followed by a 4:30 p.m. tipoff at Penn on Saturday.

anthony.montes@columbiaspectator.com | @CUSpecSports

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