Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 51
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
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LATE SURGE: Princeton University women’s basketball star Whitney Downs drives to the basket in recent action. Last Sunday, Downs chipped in 13 points but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 64-56 to visiting Sacred Heart. Downs has averaged 15.8 points a game in her last four outings to help Princeton move to 4-5 on the season. The 5’11 native of Franklin, Tenn. has been on a tear since exploding for a career-high 24 points against California on December 6.

With Downs Providing Offensive Surge, Tiger Women’s Hoops Showing Growth

Bill Alden

Over the first 79 games of her career with the Princeton University women’s basketball team, Whitney Downs averaged 5.9 points a game.

Priding herself on her ability to play defense and make steals, the 5’11 Downs didn’t see herself as an offensive force for the Tigers.

But then in game 80 of her career, something strange happened as Downs and her teammates played at No. 3 California on December 6 in the Collier’s International Classic.

Downs suddenly became an offensive whiz, exploding for a career-high 24 points, hitting on 9 of 13 shots as the Tigers gamely battled Cal in a 75-53 loss.

The performance changed Downs’ view of her role with the Tigers. “When you have the best game of your life against the No. 3 team in the nation, you get confidence,” said the senior co-captain from Franklin, Tenn.

“You feel like you should be able to help the team like that every game because you are not going to play against any more athletic or skilled players.”

Since that night in Berkeley, Downs has become a go-to offensive player for Princeton. A day after the game against Cal, she scored a team-high 15 points in a 53-51 loss to St. Louis, solidifying her spot on the Collier’s All-Tournament team.

Last Friday, Downs scored 11 points to help Princeton top visiting Monmouth 52-41.

Against Sacred Heart last Sunday, Downs struggled in the first half scoring just three points as the Tigers found themselves down 31-22 at halftime.

But fulfilling her new role, Downs scored 10 points in the second half as Princeton rallied to cut the Sacred Heart lead to 59-56 in the waning moments of the contest.

The Tigers nearly cut the margin to one with less than a minute to go as Downs twisted to the basket and had a runner just rim out. The Pioneers rebounded the missed shot and scored the last five points of the game to pull out a 64-56 triumph.

While Downs was disappointed with the result, she liked the resolve shown by the Tigers as they clawed their way back into the game.

“We showed a lot of heart,” asserted Downs. “After cutting the lead to three [at 44-41], they had a five-point possession. We could have hung our heads and given up after that but we fought back and we were in it. My shot that rimmed out would’ve cut it to one. That was a tough break; it was a good look. That shot goes in 80 percent of the time.”

Princeton made its breaks in the second half by getting on the same page offensively.

“We have to play within our offense more consistently,” added Downs. “You saw that in the second half, we shot a higher percentage. We got better looks when we were playing within the offense; we were working together as five people to set up shots.”

As she took the floor for the second half, Downs was looking to get her shots. “Coach [Courtney Banghart] reiterated at half that she thought we could take this team off the dribble and penetrate more,” said Downs.

“That’s pretty much my game so I tried to do that. My shots didn’t all fall from the outside so I knew I had to get to the hole more.”

Recognizing how to best utilize her aggressiveness has helped Downs go on her recent scoring surge.

“Coach Banghart has really helped me understand how to utilize my strengths on our offense, whether it is through backdoor cuts or seeing the driving angles and going to the basket,” explained Downs, who is now averaging 11.9 points a game, tying her with sophomore Addie Micir for the team lead.

“She has really helped me understand where my points are going to come from and then my teammates are doing a great job of setting me up and giving me great passes and screens. I am just trying to be more patient and let the game come to me more.”

Head coach Banghart likes the game Downs has been showing recently. “Whitney has been key for our team’s growth,” asserted Banghart. “Her love of the game has never been in question but to see the growth of her offense has been a pleasure. She was in double figures again tonight but shooting 3-of-11 is not good enough. We need her consistency to be back but her effort over the first nine games of the year has been great. I am so proud of the girl.”

Princeton’s offensive execution in the second half had Banghart feeling proud.

“I thought we were more aggressive in the second half,” said Banghart, whose team outscored Sacred Heart 34-33 over the last 20 minutes of the game.

“I thought our screening was more relevant in the second half; we were playing at a better pace so we had openings. The second half is how we need to play for 40 minutes and then we’ll be fine.”

The Tigers got some good play in the second half from freshmen Lauren Edwards and Devona Allgood. Edwards ended the game with 10 points and three assists while Allgood chipped in eight points and eight rebounds.

“They are certainly doing well,” said Banghart. “Devona is a rookie playing against an All-American center [Kaitlin Sowinski]; she had a tough time guarding her or otherwise I would have been happy to keep her in all game. Those two just get better every game so I am excited for them to play come January. They don’t look like rookies.”

Banghart liked the way the her squad progressed as it split its weekend games.

“We won Friday and didn’t necessarily play so well,” said Banghart. “The first half tonight wasn’t very good and then in the second half, I thought we played pretty well. At this point in the season I just want to be playing well and growing. Everything is about preparing for the Ivy League season.”

The Tigers will get the chance for some more growth this weekend as they head down to Washington, D.C. to play at American on December 19 and at George Washington on December 21.

“Both of them are good teams; both are experienced,” added Banghart. “They are big games for us, they fit in well with what we need. We need to test ourselves and they will be a good fit for that.”

Downs, for her part, is ready for the final tests of her Princeton career. “At the beginning of the season you think it’s going to last forever but as you tick off the calendar days, you realize that it’s going quickly and every game is precious,” said Downs.

“The seniors have a sense of urgency; we want to do as much as we can to impact this program positively this year and in the years to come. We are trying to build a foundation with hard work.”

If Downs can keep up her scoring surge, she could have quite an impact on Princeton’s fortunes this winter.

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