Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Big Picture

The charter flight landed at Newark around 2:30 a.m., and about an hour later the bus rolled into the circle in front of DeNunzio Pool. Out, for the last time, came the 2012-13 Princeton women's basketball team.

This is about as far away from the excitement and glamor that is the NCAA tournament as a team can get.

Hours earlier and 1,600 miles away, the women's basketball team struggled to ever find its comfort zone in its opening round game against Florida State and ultimately found itself on the wrong end of a 60-44 final score.

Princeton's singular focus had been on winning that first-round game, from the time the draw was announced days earlier and, for that matter, for an entire season that seemed predestined to take the team to another NCAA tournament.

And now it was over.

It's such a harsh reality, knowing that your season has ended, there's no going back and there's nothing that can be done to change it. For seniors it's even harsher, knowing that it's the last time you'll wear the jersey.

Instead of going back to the hotel and getting ready for the next round, it's a quick getaway back home and a late, late, late arrival on campus.

And then what? Back to the dorms, where it really sets in?

It takes awhile to get past that emptiness, TigerBlog assumes. Eventually, the bigger picture comes to light.

And here is that big picture for the Princeton women's basketball program:

The last four years have been the greatest era the program has known. Princeton had never been to the NCAA tournament prior to 2010; the team has now been to four straight. No team in Ivy League women's basketball history had ever been ranked nationally; Princeton broke into the Top 25 last year and hung around the top 30 most of this season.

Oh, and the 11, 12, 9 and 9 seeds? Those are the four best in Ivy history.

No Ivy League women's team ever won more games over a four-year period than Princeton has won the last four years.

Princeton is 54-2 in the Ivy League in the last four years. Overall? Princeton has gone 96-20 the last four years. That's an insane record; for a team that never before had been to the NCAA tournament before, it's even more ludicrously impressive.

And the future?

It's still bright, even with the loss of the current seniors and especially Niveen Rasheed, the two-time Ivy League Player of the Year who would have 1) been the three-time Ivy League Player of the Year and 2) would have obliterated the school record for points in a career had she not torn her ACL and missed half of her sophomore year.

As it is, she finished her career with 1,617 points, which left her 66 points away from Sandi Bittler's career record. Her injury cost her about 250 points or so.

It might not be consolation in the hours after the loss to Florida State, but these accomplishments are not going to be forgotten anytime soon.

And none of that may be the biggest legacy for this group.

No, the Princeton's women's basketball team did more than just win.

It played an exciting, tenacious, overwhelming style, one that resonated with basketball fans in general. As a result, the team captured the interest of many who had never been fans of women's basketball before, which is no easy feat.

As TB has said, attendance at Princeton women's games has tripled in the last four years, to the point where crowds of between 1,000-2,000 are the norm. This was never the case in the history of the program before, and it's not something that could be accomplished simply by appealing solely to fans of women's basketball.

For many people, it was Friday/Saturday at Jadwin, and maybe it would be the men one weekend and the women the next, but it didn't really matter.

That might be the greatest achievement of this team the last four years.

By a team that has an incredibly long list of achievements, one way longer than any casual Princeton fan would ever have dreamed possible four years ago.

By one very special team. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amen! Terrific group of women. Proud to be a Ptincetonian.