Tuesday, March 24, 2015


The greatest season ever by an Ivy League women's basketball team and one of the greatest seasons by any Princeton team in any sport ended last night when Princeton lost to Maryland 85-70 in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

If Princeton had decided to spend a sizable portion of its endowment to buy positive publicity for the institution, it couldn't have done better than what came of fielding the lone women's basketball team in Division I to reach the NCAA tournament unbeaten.

The 2014-15 Princeton women represented everything that is great about Princeton Athletics and the University as a whole.

First of all, the team won. It won big. It won bigger than any Ivy League team - men's or women's - ever has before, at least record-wise.

The Tigers went 30-0 in the regular season and then pushed that to 31-0 with an 80-70 win over Green Bay in the opening round Saturday. It was only the second NCAA tournament win by an Ivy League women's basketball team.

Princeton destroyed basically everyone who got in its way. Of its 31 wins, 29 were by double figures. Most of those weren't remotely competitive.

Way back in the regular season, attendance at Jadwin Gym skyrocketed, with crowds exceeding 2,000 by the end. And why? Because this team was fun to watch.

This team was great on both ends of the court, and it played at a pace that joined both ends of the court relatively quickly. The teams on the schedule couldn't keep up.

Keep in mind where this team began - as the Ivy League co-favorite along with Penn. It began the year two seasons removed from the graduation of Niveen Rasheed and the rest of the Class of 2013, the one that won four league titles and played in four NCAA tournaments after the program had never played in the NCAA tournament prior to its arrival.

When the 2013-14 regular season ended, the balance of power in the league appeared to have shifted to Penn, who came to Jadwin and handled Princeton to win the Ivy title. Was the run over with the graduation of Rasheed and her classmates?

That's where Princeton was when the season started.

Then the winning started. And kept going. And going and going and going.

It was more than that though. This team is made up incredibly likable players who excel in so many other areas than basketball. And, at a school like Princeton, they have been given the opportunity to do so.

And so you have a Shapiro Prize for Academic Excellence winner (Michelle Miller), a Scholar in the Nation's Service Initiative honoree (Alex Wheatley), a two-sport athlete (Blake Dietrick), a player who speaks a bunch of languages (Annie Tarakchian) and the niece of the President of the United States (Leslie Robinson).

If you went to a Princeton game, you saw these players and all the others interact with fans young and old. You saw them be approachable. You saw them smile. You saw how much they loved playing with each other and for Princeton.

Because Princeton was winning every game, the team started to generate incredible media attention.

The more times Princeton's players spoke into a microphone, the better Princeton looked. Every time, every word, every interview.  It didn't matter which player it was.

Every time someone on that team spoke, the more impressive they all looked.

And at the forefront of it all was their coach, Courtney Banghart. If the players were really good in front of microphones, Courtney is one of the best that's ever been at it.

She said all the right things every time. TigerBlog has known her since the first day she was hired here, and he can tell you that there are few people who more competitive than she is.

She took over a program that had never played in the NCAA tournament. She is now a regular there. For her, an NCAA tournament appearance isn't good enough. She wants to win and then win again.

The result of the 30-0 regular season was an eighth seed, one that angered pretty much the entire national women's basketball audience. The reward was a tough first round game with Green Bay and then an even tougher second round game against the Terps.

The first half last night was played at a lightning pace, and Princeton appeared to get worn down. It didn't help that Maryland couldn't miss, knocking down 12 of 20 three-point shots. That's the number that Princeton needed to win, not the other way around.

Dietrick finished with 26 points in her final game as a Tiger. Princeton competed really hard, but ultimately the Terps - 32-2, winners of 26 straight, undefeated in the Big Ten, undefeated at home, one of the very few teams that can stay on the court with UConn - were too physical and, on this night, way too accurate.

It wasn't a fair draw for the Tigers.

What they deserved was to play at home, in Jadwin, as a fourth seed. What they deserved was to get Maryland in the next round, on a neutral court.

It didn't get that. And so it ended last night in Maryland.

The final number is 31-1. It's an incredible accomplishment.

All of Princeton - athletics and non-athletics - embraced this team.

Of course. How could it be any different?

Teams like this do not come along too often. They are to be cherished when they do, and that's what happened with the 2014-15 Princeton Tigers.


For what they did. And how they did it.

1 comment:

W. Matthei said...

I was at Princeton in the wake of Bradley, etc. My classmate became ABA rookie of the year (Brian Taylor).
The fact that it is now our women's team that makes the news exemplifies all about Princeton that is different and so wonderful.
We live in DC and went to both games at Maryland and fell in love with these girls, their coach and their wonderful fans. My wife is from India and had never seen a basketball game, but was almost in tears when our team lost last night.
What a great story...they should find a film maker to follow the team next year and make a documentary-a touching and inspiring story.