Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 50
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
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VENTURA BOULEVARD: Princeton University basketball co-captain Caitlin O’Neill drives to the hoop in action earlier this season. O’Neill, a native of Ventura, Calif., produced an inspired effort against California last Saturday, scoring nine points with two assists and two rebounds. O’Neill’s heroics weren’t enough as Princeton fell 68-42 to the No. 11 Bears.

O’Neill Inspired by Her California Dream in Helping PU Women’s Hoop Battle Cal

Bill Alden

Caitlin O’Neill had December 8 circled on her calendar for awhile.

The Ventura, Calif. native and junior co-captain for the Princeton University women’s basketball team had special motivation as No. 11 California visited Jadwin Gym last Saturday.

“I wanted to go to Cal at one point, I had a lot of relatives that went there,” said O’Neill.

“I always thought highly of it. I definitely had an interest in it but they didn’t have an interest in me.”

In the first half, O’Neill gave Cal a glimpse of what they missed as she scored five points, including a last second lay-up that left Princeton trailing by just 27-22 at the half.

In the second half, the Bears pulled away from Princeton but O’Neill kept battling, ending the evening with nine points, two rebounds, and two assists as the Tigers fell 68-42.

O’Neill relished the experience of battling her home-state team notwithstanding the final score.

“I was so excited to play in a game like this,” said O’Neill, who is averaging 6.6 points a game together with 3.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists for the 3-7 Tigers.

“Playing a good team like that we obviously have nothing to lose. It’s so much fun; we seem to play our best basketball in those kind of games. I think our Maryland game was probably our best game of the year.”

In the early going, it looked like it was going to be a nightmare for Princeton as it trailed 7-0 with just 2:13 gone in the game. The Tigers went on a 16-10 run to narrow the Cal lead to 17-16 and make the Bears work.

“They got up early but we kept fighting,” said the 5’9 guard. “We believed in ourselves. Our offense is evolutionary as is our defense. Coach [Banghart] came in this season and told us we weren’t known as a defensive team. I think we are doing a better job; we want to get known as a defensive team.”

O’Neill did a good job of slashing to the basket against Cal’s post players.

“When my shot doesn’t fall, I sometimes forget about other aspects of my game,” said O’Neill.

“Tonight I just took advantage of some openings. Their post players didn’t want to get into foul trouble so once we got past the defense there was a wide open lane to the basket.”

O’Neill acknowledged that the powerful Bears eventually wore Princeton down.

“They are a very athletic team; it’s lucky that we have 13 players and we can go to the bench,” said O’Neill.

All in all, O’Neill thinks the Tigers benefit collectively from playing Top 20 teams.

“We have such an awesome schedule with a lot of challenging teams,” said O’Neill.

“It’s good to play them because you never know what to expect in the Ivy League. The teams are almost equal and the games can go any way. Playing against people who play great basketball always presents a great opportunity to get better yourself.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart thought her players bettered themselves through facing up to the challenge presented by Cal.

“I’m really pleased because I think we evolved offensively,” said Banghart.

“We were poised, we were better at spacing. A team of this caliber wants to put you out in the first four minutes so they don’t have to deal with you for the rest of the night. Tonight we were going to make them deal with us for 40 minutes.”

The Tigers also showed some growth on defense. “I was pleased with our poise defensively as well,” said Banghart.

“We kept them guessing. We threw traps at them; we mixed things up; sometimes we doubled their bigs.”

Banghart liked the efforts she got from O’Neill and senior co-captain Ali Prichard (eight points, five rebounds) who have redoubled their efforts to hone their games.

“We are still evolving; one of the things that we talk about is that everybody at every position has to get better,” said Banghart, who got 14 points from top scorer Meagan Cowher.

“Those two kids have spent a lot of time in the gym getting better. I think it is fun for the Jadwin fans to see that their work is paying off.”

Princeton’s players will have some daunting work in front of them at Jadwin as the Tigers host No. 3 Rutgers on December 12 and powerful Syracuse on December 16.

“These games are great,” asserted Banghart, a former star guard and assistant coach for the Dartmouth women’s hoops program.

“The Ivy League throws a lot of things at you with back-to-back games, long travel between games, and dealing with exams. It is good for us to play a team like Cal followed by Rutgers followed by Syracuse. Rutgers is going to totally pressure us. They play low scoring games while Cal is going to play more of a post game. I think any of these games forces us to get ready for a lot of different things.”

Banghart believes her team is getting ready to play a more free flowing offense.

“We are starting to be more patient with the ball,” said Banghart. “We’re getting better looks. Everybody is playing with more patience so we are not so regimented. I want more reading and countering. That takes ball skill and I think our ball skill continues to improve.”

O’Neill and her teammates are inspired by Banghart to improve their game. “We try to make the coach happy, not because we don’t want to get punished but because we want to make her proud,” said O’Neill.

“She’s an awesome coach to work hard for. I think we are hitting our peak; things are unfolding nicely at a point when we need them to. We should be right there when the Ivy League starts in a couple of weeks.”

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