Monday, February 24, 2014


You know who had a bad weekend? The U.S. Olympic men's hockey team.

You know who had a good weekend? The Princeton women's basketball team.

Both teams played Friday and Saturday, and they had vastly different experiences.

The Princeton women's basketball team outscored the U.S. men's hockey team 156-0 in their two games this weekend. Okay, so it's not really fair to offer up comparative scores from basketball and hockey, so maybe it's better to say that the difference was the fact that the Princeton women got the points when they needed them, while the Americans didn't.

Oh, and they also got some help where they might not have expected it, in a way that speaks volumes about how sports can work.

Let's start with the Olympic hockey team.

A few hours before the Princeton women started their weekend, the U.S. men were confident and ready heading into a semifinal game against Canada. And then it all fell apart.

Canada defeated the U.S. 1-0 Friday to advance the gold medal game, which meant an extra day off. The Canadians, on a roll, thumped Sweden yesterday 3-0.

The loss Friday dropped the U.S. into the bronze medal game. For TigerBlog's money, there is no worse place to be and no game that has more pressure on it than the bronze medal game.

A day earlier, the gold is in your sights. This is immediately followed by the very real possibility that you could be going home with no medal at all.

And that's what happened to Team USA. One day after playing a very, very emotional game, the U.S. had to come right back against Finland, playing with the added problem of having to win to medal. Instead, it was all Finland, who won 5-0.

Tough loss one day? Hard to dial it back up the next.

Then there was the weekend for the Princeton women.

Back on Friday, Princeton, Harvard and Penn all had one Ivy League loss in women's basketball, while Dartmouth was winless. The matchups for the weekend were Princeton at Dartmouth and Penn at Harvard Friday and Princeton at Harvard and Penn at Dartmouth Saturday.

Clearly, there was going to be some sorting out of the league race this weekend.

If you're Princeton, you weren't really sure which team to root for in the Penn-Harvard matchup. If Princeton was going to beat Harvard Saturday, then it would be better for Harvard to beat Penn. If Princeton was going to lose to Harvard, then it would be better for Penn to beat Harvard.

Why? Because Princeton plays Penn in the final game of the regular season, March 11 at Jadwin. If Princeton had a second loss, then it would need Penn to have one loss, not Harvard.

Anyway, that was the background to the weekend.

So what happened? Princeton pasted Dartmouth by 41 Friday night. And Penn pulled away from Harvard to win 63-50.

At the midway point of the weekend, Penn was in the position of rooting for Harvard to beat Princeton, which would leave both with two losses. Surely Penn would cruise in Hanover against the 0-9 Big Green, right?

Well, let's see what happened next. Princeton had a back-and-forth game against Harvard, one that the Tigers sealed 69-64 with some clutch foul shooting, especially by Michelle Miller, who was 6 for 6 for the Tigers, who went 20 for 24 as a team. Princeton won despite a 1 for 13 shooting night from Blake Dietrick, the reigning Ivy Player of the Week and probably the frontrunner for Ivy Player of the Year, especially if Princeton wins.

With the win over Harvard in the bank, TigerBlog checked on the Dartmouth-Penn game - and found that it was 26-17 Green at the half. Surely Penn would come back, right?

Well, the Quakers did. But Dartmouth gutted it out, taking it 53-50, after Penn had taken the lead at 50-49 late in the second half. It was a shocking result on some levels, but on others it was understandable.

Huge Friday win? Just like with a tough loss, it can be tough to dial it back up 24 hours later.

It's what happened to Harvard after its win at Jadwin earlier this year was followed by a 29-point loss at Penn the next night. And it's what happened to the Quakers this weekend, after its emotional win over the Crimson Friday.

So now what?

Princeton is 8-1, with games remaining at Yale and Brown this weekend and then home with Columbia, Cornell and then Penn.

The Quakers are 7-2, hoping for a Princeton slip-up but knowing that they cannot afford one of their own and that they at the very least need to come to Jadwin within one game of the Tigers and then take their chances at two straight wins, one to force a play-off and then it the play-off itself.

Harvard now is 7-3, with no more games against the teams in front. Mathematically the Crimson are still there, but they need a lot of help from the rest of the league.

Princeton got the sweep it needed and the help from Dartmouth that it never expected to get. All in all, it was a pretty good weekend.

John Thompson, when he was Princeton's coach, used to say the goal was to be in first place at the end of each weekend. Princeton finds itself there now in women's basketball.

Sole possession of first, actually. It makes it somewhat sweeter, though there is a still a long way to go.

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