Wednesday, November 7, 2018

NCAA Tournament Time

TigerBlog was watching the Oklahoma-Texas Tech football game Saturday night, and he couldn't help but think that it looked like Lubbock was a fun place to watch a game.

As it turned out, it was a wild one, a game that ended up 51-46 Oklahoma. TigerBlog was rooting for the home team that night, the Red Raiders.

At the same time as he watched the football game on TV, he also had the Princeton-Penn women's soccer game on ESPN+ on his iPad. He never really considered at the time that these two locations would be colliding a few days later.

The Princeton women's soccer team needed to win that game against Penn to get a share of the Ivy League championship and a spot in the NCAA tournament. A tie wouldn't have been good enough, let alone a loss.

And win Princeton did, a 1-0 victory accomplished on the 43rd goal of Mimi Asom's amazing career. Asom is third all-time in goals at Princeton now, behind only Tyler Lussi and Esmeralda Negron.

She's had a bunch of big goals in her career, and the one against Penn was up there with any of them, especially when you factor in the stakes of the game and the fact that Penn had given up only four goals the entire year prior to that. That's extraordinary.

When that game was over, Princeton had its third Ivy title in the four years that Sean Driscoll has been head coach. And the Tigers had a return trip to the NCAA tournament.

The NCAA pairings for women's soccer were announced yesterday, and where would the Tigers be headed? TigerBlog expected Rutgers, or someplace else that required a bus.

And where did they end up? On the way to Lubbock, to take on Texas Tech (Friday, 7 Eastern). It appears that the soccer field is on the other side of the road that wound around above the football stadium, something TB saw on aerial shots during the football game.

If you remember a year ago, Princeton had a great run through the NCAA tournament, defeating, Monmouth, North Carolina State and then, most impressively, 21-time champion North Carolina to get to the quarterfinals. It was the second-best run in program history, after the 2004 team reached the Final Four, something no other Ivy school has ever done.

Texas Tech went 13-5-2 overall and 5-3-1 in the Big 12. The Red Raiders have never lost an NCAA game on their home field, the John Walker Complex, and in fact they have never even given up a goal in those four games.

On the other hand, the last home NCAA game for Texas Tech was in 2015. Princeton and Texas Tech have never met.

As TB said, Texas Tech looked like a fun place to see a game, and apparently a somewhat welcoming place. Consider what head coach Tom Stone had to say: "We are excited to welcome Princeton to Lubbock and the campus of Texas Tech. After their terrific NCAA run last year, we are well aware of their quality and recognize we have to be at our best for this opening round game to be able to move on."

While the women's soccer team travels 1,700 miles to Texas, the field hockey team will be traveling about 1,700 feet from its locker room in Caldwell Field House for its NCAA tournament. It's the third NCAA appearance in three years for head coach Carla Tagliente, who has taken the Tigers to one Final Four and one quarterfinal the first two years.

Princeton takes on Virginia Friday at noon in the first of two games on Bedford Field, followed by two teams who have already played the Tigers this year - Penn State (whom Princeton defeated) and Harvard (who beat Princeton). The winners play Sunday at 1 for a spot in the Final Four next weekend in Louisville.

That loss to Harvard kept Princeton from the Ivy title, but it hasn't changed what a remarkable year it's been for Princeton. In fact, the Tigers are the third seed in the tournament, which is an amazing accomplishment for a team that didn't have an automatic bid.

It's a testament to what kind of season it's been. Princeton has played 10 ranked teams and nine NCAA tournament teams, and included in that run are wins over Duke and UConn, in addition to Penn State.

Princeton field hockey has been a fixture in this tournament. This will be the 14th straight appearance for the Tigers, who won the 2012 NCAA title, again the only time an Ivy school has done so.

Virginia is 9-9 on the year, but hey, don't be fooled by that at all. UVa has also played a tough schedule, and there are no pushovers at this time of year.

When players come to compete in women's soccer and field hockey at Princeton, this is the time of year they have in mind. Both teams have exciting opportunities coming up at the end of the week - even though they have vastly different travel arrangements to make.

Again, it's Princeton at Texas Tech in women's soccer Friday at 7 Eastern. It's Princeton at home against Virginia Friday at 12 in field hockey.

It's NCAA tournament time for those two programs. Again.

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