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.