Bridgeport, Conn. – Moments before the women’s basketball team’s NCAA Tournament game against Kansas State on Saturday, head coach Courtney Banghart looked much more nervous than usual. Playing not as a long-shot underdog but in the proverbial first-round toss-up game, 9-seed vs. 8-seed, Princeton came in with the highest expectations of Banghart’s seven trips to the Big Dance as a player and coach.
And in the opening minutes, the Princeton players seemed tense as well. Showing a lack of poise and patience early on, the Tigers committed sloppy turnovers and gave up open shots, allowing the Wildcats to take a 5-0 lead that could have been twice that. Sitting in nearly the same spot from which I watched Princeton’s previous two tournament games, all I could think was, “Oh no, it’s happening again.”
Last March, Princeton brought a team of tournament-tested players to Maryland, where they faced fifth-seeded Georgetown in the first round. After scoring first, the Tigers were blitzed by a 22-3 Hoyas run that virtually ended the game before the second media timeout. Two years ago, in Tallahassee, Fla., Princeton lasted a little bit longer, but a 13-2 run by sixth-seeded St. John’s turned a one-possession game into a comfortable lead midway through the first half.
But this year, things were supposed to be different. With the highest seed and first national ranking in Ivy League history, these Tigers were supposed to be tougher to keep down. And, as it turned out, they were: Princeton responded with a 12-2 run on Saturday, taking a five-point lead at the 12-minute mark.
“Before the game, Coach Banghart kept reminding us that it doesn’t matter what happens in the first three minutes, we’re going to be out there for the full 40 minutes,” guard Lauren Edwards ’12 said. “It took us a few minutes to get into our rhythm, but when we finally did, we played well and executed our game plan.”
After the Tigers loosened up, the contest became, as Banghart said, “a game of alternating currents.” Kansas State scored seven straight points to re-take the lead, Princeton grabbed the advantage back with four points of its own, and so the rest of the game went. The Wildcats held a four-point lead at halftime, but the Tigers flipped it with a 10-2 run, taking the lead when center Devona Allgood ’12 ripped a missed free throw from a defender’s hands and laid it in while being fouled.
But after the Wildcats went ahead with a three-pointer at the 12-minute mark, the currents stopped alternating. Princeton never again pulled even, as a late comeback attempt fell short in a 67-64 loss. Ivy League Player of the Year Niveen Rasheed ’13 scored a team-high 20 points – though she needed 22 shots to do so – while Allgood added an efficient 15 and Edwards matched her total. The other Tigers combined for only 14.
Still, in scoring 64 points on 64 possessions, Princeton’s offense performed well enough to win what was expected to be a defensive struggle. Its defense, stout all year, instead allowed the Wildcats to shoot 57 percent in the second half, often losing players on cuts to the hoop or closing out too late on outside shots. With the Tigers focusing on leading scorer Jalana Childs in the post, forward Branshea Brown exploded for a career-high 22 points.
“March is usually a month for superstars, and I thought if our stars played well enough and our role players were X-factors, we’d win. [But] I thought their role players were the X-factors,” Banghart said.
Though the Tigers played much better and extended the game deep into the second half this year, the end result was the same: players fighting to control their emotions at the post-game press conference alongside a proud but disappointed Banghart. Twelve long months lie ahead before Princeton can get another shot at a tournament victory – and with two All-Ivy seniors graduating from a conference that may be better next season, the Tigers will have to get there first.
If Doug Davis ’12 had played just an average game for MEN’S BASKETBALL in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational on Wednesday, his collegiate career would probably be over. But the senior guard kept Princeton’s season alive with 31 points as the Tigers posted their highest scoring output since 1995 in a 95-86 victory at Evansville. More impressive than Davis’ career-high point total was his efficiency – he made nine of 11 field goal attempts, five of six threes and all eight free throws. No matter what Davis does, the Tigers will need a better defensive effort to beat Pittsburgh on the road tonight at 7 p.m. and advance to the semifinals.
WOMEN’S LACROSSE also picked up a signature win on Saturday, dropping No. 11 Virginia 9-7 at Sherrerd Field. Rookie goaltender Annie Woehling ’15 had struggled in earlier games, most notably the Tigers’ surprising loss to Rutgers, but she stopped 13 of the Cavaliers’ 20 shots on goal in an impressive showing.
At the NCAA WRESTLING Championships, 157-pounder Daniel Kolodzik ’12 became the first Princeton grappler since Greg Parker ’03 to win a match in the main bracket. The senior defeated his first two opponents to reach the quarterfinals, but losses to the fifth and sixth seeds left him just shy of a top-eight finish and All-America honors. Princeton’s other two entrants, 125-pounder Garrett Frey ’13 and 141-pounder Adam Krop ’14, each won a match in the consolation bracket before they were eliminated.
Kevin Whitaker ’13 is an economics major and Daily Princetonian sports editor.