Four for four: Women’s basketball wins Ivy title on Senior Night

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The Princeton women’s basketball Class of 2013, clockwise from upper left: Megan Bowen, Kate Miller, Niveen Rasheed, and Lauren Polansky. (Photos: Courtesy Office of Athletic Communications)

In many ways, the women’s basketball team’s Senior Night on Saturday was just like the Senior Nights of thousands of teams in dozens of sports around the country. Before the game, Princeton’s veterans were honored for their work over the past four years; as their names and accomplishments were announced to the crowd, they brought their families onto the court, posed for pictures, and embraced head coach Courtney Banghart.

Of course, few Senior Nights have ever had as much to celebrate as the Tigers’ Class of 2013. As rookies, that quartet claimed the Ivy title and Princeton’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament; they added three more in following years. As juniors, they were critical in making the 2012 Tigers the first nationally ranked team in Ivy history, and soon they will graduate as the league’s most successful class by almost any standard.

And while most Senior Night festivities end when the game begins, Princeton held an even bigger celebration after Saturday’s final buzzer. With an 80-51 victory over Brown, the Tigers clinched their fourth straight outright Ivy championship — unprecedented in the round-robin era — and officially punched their ticket back to the NCAA tournament.

Fittingly, Princeton’s four seniors all made key plays in the title-clinching victory — and drew the largest cheers while cutting down the nets afterward. “The intangibles they brought are why they’re so successful,” Banghart said. “They have an enormous amount of enthusiasm, resolve, and toughness, and you don’t know that when recruiting them.”

Although the Class of 2013 entered Saturday a perfect 27-0 at home in Ivy League play, and Brown was ranked seventh in the league at 3-10, the Bears led late in the first half thanks to some rare defensive breakdowns. Kate Miller ’13 re-took the lead at the two-minute mark with a long jumper, then swished a three-pointer from nearly the same spot on the following possession; pesky point guard Lauren Polansky ’13 poked the ball free from Carly Wellington for a turnover 93 feet from the Bears’ basket; and Niveen Rasheed ’13 followed up a miss with a two-handed tip-in with 40 seconds remaining. Thanks to their seniors’ contributions, Princeton held a slim 33-32 lead at halftime.

The second half was a completely different game, as the Tigers torched Brown for 47 points on 32 possessions while limiting the Bears to only 19. During a 20-4 run early in the half, the Bears could hardly complete a pass on offense or get a rebound on defense; by the time the four seniors exited as a unit with two-and-a-half minutes remaining, the Ivy League title was well in hand. “We just realized we weren’t playing like ourselves,” Rasheed said. “We’re not going to have our last game at home be a bad one.”

Rasheed finished with 14 points and nine rebounds; Miller and Megan Bowen ’13 also scored in double figures, while Polansky added six rebounds and three assists. None of them said they felt too sad about playing their last game at Jadwin Gym, however — they were already looking ahead to making their fourth NCAA tournament experience more successful than the first three.

“It’s not the end. It’s the last home game, but it’s not the last time I’m playing with this group of players,” Miller said. “We set our goals higher than this at the beginning of the season … now it’s on to a bigger set.”

Quick takes

For the second time in less than a year, MEN’S TRACK AND FIELD won an NCAA championship. Nine months after Donn Cabral ’12 won the 2012 outdoor steeplechase, Princeton won Friday’s distance medley relay at the indoor NCAA Championships on Friday, the first national title for any Ivy League relay since 1975.

Just as he did at the Ivy championships — and again last week at Notre Dame, where Princeton qualified for NCAAs — Peter Callahan ’13 ran a tremendous mile as the anchor leg. Penn State led for most of the race and Callahan took the baton in third place, but right before the start of the final lap, Callahan surged past the leaders and never looked back. “We believe in Pete. We knew if we got him the baton in position, it was going to be our time to get that national title,” Austin Hollimon ’13, who ran the 400-meter leg, said after the race on ESPN3.

In 25 hours, MEN’S BASKETBALL went from alone in first place to mathematical elimination, as Harvard clinched the outright Ivy League title and NCAA tournament bid. After last weekend’s sweep, Princeton entered the weekend in strong position to win at least a share of the league title, but the Tigers lost 71-66 at Yale and 80-67 at Brown to drop to 9-4 in conference play. Meanwhile, Harvard held off Columbia and Cornell at home to finish at 11-3 and return to the dance for a second straight year. After visiting Penn on Tuesday, Princeton may get an opportunity to continue its season in the CBI or CIT, but that will come as a disappointment for a team that was picked to win its league before the season.

MEN’S SWIMMING AND DIVING made it five straight Ivy League titles this weekend, edging Harvard by 68 points to claim its 21st conference championship since 1973 (one more than the Crimson). Harvard won eight events to Princeton’s five, but the Tigers performed well in the morning prelims and racked up points with high finishes in the finals, including a 50 free victory in 19.61 seconds by Michael Strand ’15.

No. 8-seed MEN’S HOCKEY was swept at home by No. 9-seed Cornell in the opening round of the ECAC Tournament on Friday and Saturday. Since reaching NCAAs in 2008 and ’09, the Tigers have not advanced past the first round of the ECAC Tournament.

WOMEN’S FENCING dominated the NCAA Mid-Atlantic/South Regional, as a Tiger finished first in all three weapons and Princeton swept the podium in epee and saber. With a strong performance from the men as well, it looks like the Princeton squad will be able to bring the maximum 12 fencers to NCAA Championships in two weeks.

 

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Kevin Whitaker ’13 is an economics major and former Daily Princetonian sports editor.