Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 49
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Wednesday, December 8, 2010
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RESERVE STRENGTH: Princeton University women’s basketball player Laura Johnson lofts a jumper last Sunday in Princeton’s 87-45 win over visiting Rider. Junior guard Johnson came off the bench to contribute 10 points, five rebounds, two assists, and two steals in 19 minutes of action. Princeton, now 5-2, hosts Navy on December 10 and Lafayette on December 13.

Junior Guard Johnson Provides Spark Off Bench as Princeton Women’s Hoops Rolls Past Rider

Bill Alden

The prospect of hosting winless Rider University last Sunday didn’t figure to get the blood racing for the Princeton University women’s basketball team.

After all, the Tigers came into the contest at 4-2 with wins over Southern Cal and previously undefeated Delaware and a narrow loss to No. 22 Vanderbilt in the last 10 days. Moreover, the Tigers has cruised to an 83-57 win at Rider last season.

But junior back-up guard Laura Johnson and her fellow reserves were plenty excited for the matchup with the Broncs.

“I was fired up; our bench knew that we would get a lot of minutes and the coaches were telling us ‘this is your time to earn minutes,’” said the 5’8 Johnson, a native of Lower Gwynedd, Pa.

“So we get into these games. It’s not like playing USC or Vanderbilt; it’s not that kind of excitement. But you still come out to compete and to win.”

The Tigers collectively didn’t waste any time showing their competitive fire as they jumped out to an 8-0 lead three minutes into the contest.

With the Tigers up 19-6 midway through the first half, Johnson entered the contest. Sparking the Tigers with five points, three rebounds, one assist and one steal, she helped Princeton increase its advantage to 42-22 by halftime.

In the second half, Johnson added five points, two rebounds and another assist and steal as Princeton rolled to an 87-45 win.

“I felt good; my teammates were getting open so I was getting them the ball,” said Johnson, who hit on 4-of-7 shots, including 2-of-4 from 3-point range in piling up her 10 points. “I was getting some shots up too; it was a little bit of everything in this game.”

In reflecting on her reserve role, Johnson said she tries to make the most of every minute she gets on the court.

“This year I have been coming in more at the 1; last year, I was coming in more at the 2,” said Johnson, who is averaging 3.9 points and 1.4 assists in her 15.9 minutes per game.

“I am now looking to try to set up my teammates more. I am surrounded by so many good scorers, it is easy to set up my teammates. I am looking to be a role player, to be whatever my teammates need. If we need some points on the board, I look to shoot a little bit more.”

In Johnson’s view, the Tiger offense should continue to put a lot of points on the board.

“We have come to our offense more,” said Johnson. “In the beginning of the year, our offense was struggling, like in the Rutgers game (a 54-53 loss). Our freshmen have come into their roles. It is a tough offense to learn with the motion and nothing really set. I think we have developed in that aspect and hopefully we can continue to grow.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart liked the way Princeton executed its offense against Rider.

“Offensively, we shared the ball really well,” said Banghart. “ We showed that over 94 feet, we are really hard to guard.”

Banghart tipped her hat to her squad’s hard play as it returned home after five straight road games.

“It was nice to be back in Jadwin; it has been a long road,” added Banghart.

“In order to be really good, we have to not care about the color of anyone else’s jersey or their record coming in. Rider is still finding themselves a little bit but that doesn’t matter. Whether we are playing Vanderbilt or Rider, it doesn’t matter. It is about us.”

It didn’t take long for Rider to find out that it was going to be in for a long evening at Jadwin.

“You want to take them out of their rhythm early,” said Banghart. “I think our crew is just so hungry for games. The fact that we have had a few days in a row of practice, they are ready to play against somebody else.”

The Princeton bench was ready to shine. “I told them we don’t just put you in, you have to earn it,” said Banghart.

“They have continued to work hard in practice and get a little bit better. The Ivy League season is a long one. We are going to need all 13 players; I hope they get hungry and get better.”

In Banghart’s view, Johnson has developed a better approach to the game. “LJ is the kind of kid who just has to get out of her own way; she is just such a perfectionist,” said Banghart.

“Part of maturity is letting the game come to you a little bit. Her heart has always been in the right place but her ability to deal with setbacks has really grown. She is key to what to we are doing.”

A key piece to the puzzle for Princeton this winter will be sophomore forward Niveen Rasheed, who lit up Rider for 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting.

“What you see on game nights is what I see everyday,” said Banghart of Rasheed, who was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week.

“If a kid is going to play that hard and going to be that dialed into her teammates with that much talent, the sky is going to be the limit. She is glad to be home but that is how she plays all the time. She plays as hard as she can; she gets those second chance points.”

Princeton will be using its December games to sharpen up for Ivy competition which starts for the Tigers when they host Penn on January 8 and start the defense of their league crown.

“These guys are just building,” said Banghart, whose team hosts Navy on December 10 and Lafayette on December 13.

“If they keep fighting like this, I like this team a lot. We need to ratchet up our inside-outside play on the defensive end. We need to push the pace offensively, now we are going to start playing 94 feet.”

Johnson, for her part, is ready for the final push before league play. “Coach always talks about this time of the season as being about getting us ready for Ivies,” said Johnson.

“We need to find our holes, what we are not good at and fix it so when we go into Ivies we are ready to play and don’t have any major gaps in our game. We need to find out where we need to improve and continue to grow in all areas of our game.”

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