Women’s basketball to face St. John’s in NCAA Tournament

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(Photo by Beverly Schaefer)

The 26-2 Princeton women’s basketball team earned a No. 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will face No. 6 seed St. John’s in the opening round Saturday, March 20, in Tallahassee, Fla. ESPN2 will broadcast the game, which begins at 12:21 p.m. EDT. Players, coaches, and friends of the program — including President Tilghman — gathered to watch the selection show March 15 at Triumph Brewing Co. in Princeton.

Co-captain Tani Brown ’10 said the NCAA bid is “the cherry on top of a sundae that’s taken four years to make.” For some on the team, the wait has not been quite as long, but the experience is still sweet. Freshman Niveen Rasheed, the Ivy League Rookie of the Year, called Princeton’s record-breaking run “something that’s so much bigger than all of us.”

The Princeton women won the Ivy title with a 14-0 league record and enter the postseason with a 21-game winning streak. St. John’s, one of five nationally-ranked teams in the Big East, was 24-6 overall and 12-4 in conference play.

For coach Courtney Banghart, the matchup was not a complete surprise. A week ago, online projections showed the Tigers facing St. John’s in the opening round, and a day after the official announcement, Banghart provided a thumbnail scouting report on the Red Storm:

“They’re very physical. They’re going to press us for 40 minutes over 94 feet. They like to slash from the basket. They don’t shoot well from the perimeter. And they’re just incredibly aggressive on the offensive glass. … They’re like we are — they’re a team that has really surpassed expectations over the course of the year … and are continually getting better.”

Banghart offered a subtle vote of confidence when she outlined her team’s timeline for this week, mentioning Princeton’s plans to practice on Sunday — a session that would be necessary only if the Tigers beat St. John’s. But she also acknowledged that her team would have to overcome the nerves of playing on the biggest stage in women’s basketball.

“I’m not going to expect them to be calm,” Banghart said. “You can’t put them in an environment that exciting and ask kids who compete with their hearts on their sleeves to calm down. I think what we have to do is manage their excitement. … These kids have to realize that we’re here because we deserve it, and this is a game we can win.”

Post updated March 16, 2010, 3:18 p.m.

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