Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Banner Day

There were the five members of the Princeton women's basketball senior class, standing together on the middle of Carril Court.

It was Sunday afternoon, and Princeton was playing Marist in its home opener.

And now it was halftime, and the five members of the Class of 2013 were gathered again. The brief ceremony to honor them and their achievements included the presentation of their game jerseys - No. 43, No. 20, No. 3 and of course No 24.

Those four would be Kate Miller, Meg Bowen, Lauren Polansky and Niveen Rasheed.

The best player in program history and the two-time Ivy Player of the Year, Rasheed came all the way from Greece, where she is playing professionally, to be part of the ceremony and attend the game.

Think Princeton women's basketball isn't important to her still? She flew all the way from Greece to be part of a three-minute ceremony.

Oh, and there was also No. 5. She didn't have to nearly as far as Rasheed, just from New York City. Like the others, though, she would have come that far and further to be there.

Who was No. 5? Amanda Roman, the team manager the last four years.

What do you give the manager when everyone else gets their jersey? A jersey with what apparently was her high school number. Or possibly her height. TigerBlog isn't really sure.

What TigerBlog is sure of is that the Princeton Class of 2013 is the most successful class in Ivy League women's basketball history. He knew this before he ever set out to write up their accomplishments for the ceremony.

Actually, it started before the game with the unveiling of the banners celebrating the 2013 Ivy League championship and NCAA tournament appearance.

How impressive is the resume of the Class of 2013? It's familiar, but it doesn't mean it's not worth mentioning again - a 96-20 record (the 96 wins are the most ever by an Ivy women's basketball team in a four-year period), four Ivy titles, a 54-2 Ivy record, the four best seeds by an Ivy team in the NCAA tournament (11, 12, 9, 9), the first national ranking by an Ivy team.

If pregame and halftime belonged to the grads, then the game itself belonged to the current team.

Princeton trailed early and watched Marist hit 8 of its first 11 shots while scoring 22 points in eight minutes to start the game. Princeton then tightened it up and rolled, winning 81-58.

Princeton is now 1-1 on the young season, with an opening loss at Rutgers and the win over Marist. Up next is the short trip to Rider tonight and a slightly longer trip to Georgetown Saturday afternoon.

The 23-point win over Marist came after the Red Foxes lost to Kentucky by 14. Kentucky is currently ranked seventh nationally.

So how good can Princeton be in 2013-14?

It's way too early to tell, but the Tigers appear to be good at a lot of things, most notably offense and rebounding. Princeton averages 73 points for its first two games, and both of its opponents are traditional NCAA tournament teams, so they figure to know how to defend.

Princeton has also outrebounded its two opponents 45.5-28.

Princeton shot 4 for 20 from three-point range in the 79-65 loss to Rutgers and then turned that completely around, knocking down 12 of 25 against Marist. The optimist would suggest that Princeton shot 37% against Rutgers and still put up 65 points, so simply making a few more shots would have made all the difference.

The 2013-14 Tigers also seem to have a lot of options, as nine players went at least 12 minutes against the Red Foxes.

Of course, some of that is a function of trying to find the right combinations, something that was pretty obvious last year and the years before it.

As TB has said before, this is a fascinating season for the Tiger program. In addition to the graduates from last year, Princeton also lost 1,000-point scorers Lauren Edwards and Devonna Allgood (along with Laura Johnson; all three were there Saturday as well) the year before and another 1,000-point scorer (Addie Micir) the year before that.

No current Tiger has more career points than the 434 that Kristen Helmstetter currently does. There are some explosive options, but Princeton came at Marist in waves, rather than relying on just one player.

In the first half, that particularly meant freshman Vanessa Smith, who had 11 as the Tigers turned the early deficit into a nine-point edge at the break. In the second half, Helmstetter knocked down all three of her three-pointers and scored 13 of her 18.

Does the team need to establish a bona fide star, a go-to person? Or can it be someone different every night?

Princeton women's basketball games have become a well-attended event, which is what winning big and winning in exciting fashion will do.

The 2013-14 season won't be like the four before it. This isn't "roll out the balls and name the final score" anymore.

The early returns, though, are encouraging. Saturday was a celebration of Princeton's past success - and a sign that the good times might not be over.

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