Tiger Women's Hoops Just Misses Upset, Shows Potential in Loss to Georgia Tech
By Bill Alden
Facing Atlantic Coast Conference power Georgia Tech last Sunday, the Princeton University women's basketball team figured to be in for a long afternoon.
The Yellow Jackets, a participant in last year's NCAA tourney, came into the game at Jadwin Gym boasting a 6-2 record and a potential All-American in Fallon Stokes.
By contrast, the Tigers entered the afternoon with a 2-6 mark and a lineup featuring three sophomores and two freshmen.
But giving a glimpse of their potential, the Tigers made it a harrowing afternoon for Georgia Tech as they came within seconds of pulling off a stunning upset.
Fighting back from a 34-24 halftime deficit, Princeton utilized the three-point shooting of Katy O'Brien and Ali Smith to go on a 35-19 run and take a 59-53 lead with 7:19 remaining.
Realizing they were on the ropes, the Yellow Jackets fought back and narrowed the margin to 66-65 with 7.4 seconds remaining. Getting the last possession, Georgia Tech appeared to be stymied as an Alex Stewart shot glanced off the rim at the buzzer. Stewart, however, drew a foul and calmly sank her two free throws to allow Tech to escape with a 67-66 win.
Afterward, O'Brien, who together with Smith led the Tigers with 17 points, saw the effort as a major step forward for the young Tigers.
"That's the best we've played all season," said the 5'7 Ventura, Calif., native who fired in five three-pointers on the afternoon. "A lot of things came together, we were really playing as a team. Going into the game we were focusing on not turning the ball over, boxing out, and setting good screens. We're going to build on this."
O'Brien is also looking to build on her hot play recently, which has seen her find the range from long distance as she is averaging 15 points a game in Princeton's last three contests.
"I'm really glad that my shooting is coming along," said O'Brien, who has canned 13 3-pointers in the last three games. "We've been working more on shooting 3's in practice. I spent a lot of time this summer getting into the gym and putting up shots."
The fiery O'Brien enjoys the challenge of taking on such powerful foes as Georgia Tech. "I'm glad that we have a tough schedule going into the league," said O'Brien, who struggled with two broken feet as a freshman and is now 100 percent physically.
"A lot of the Ivy League teams schedule games that they know they're going to win. Our coach doesn't put any guaranteed wins on the schedule. By the time we get to the league, we'll be a lot more prepared. If we go against Harvard, Dartmouth, or Cornell in a game like this, we're going to win it."
Princeton head coach Richard Barron believes that the Tigers' trial by fire will yield dividends in the long run. "We talked about competing in a game before we could win a game," said Barron. "We competed today so the improvement I saw today as a coach is encouraging."
Barron was understandably encouraged by the Tigers' performance in the second half, which saw them outscore the Yellow Jackets 42-33 and shoot 52 percent from the field while committing only five turnovers.
"I think we responded well after halftime," said Barron, whose club had fallen 58-51 last Friday to Wake Forest, another ACC school. "The second half was a pretty well executed and well-played game. We seemed to be patient in our offense."
One of the key factors in the smooth running of the offense was the play of point guard O'Brien. "Katy has a great eye for the game," said Barron, who also cited the diligence and progress of Smith. "She's shooting the ball great. She's a very good ball-handler and passer. She's got leadership qualities."
Barron will need his young players to show some collective leadership if the Tigers are going to start prevailing in the tight games.
"We're learning how important discipline is in the game, particularly against bigger, quicker teams" added Barron, whose team plays in the Montana Tournament this weekend, facing Montana on December 28 and then playing either Idaho or Memphis the next night. "There was clearly a message sent by our kids today that they have to be taken seriously."
According to O'Brien, the Tigers are playing with a chip on their shoulder as they look ahead to their Ivy campaign which will start with a January 9 clash at Penn.
"We were picked to finish last in the league," said O'Brien with a frown. "Every time we end a game, we go in there and say we're going to surprise the league. We can't wait to show the league something, we're excited for that."
If the Tigers can duplicate their second half effort Sunday, they will open a lot of eyes around the league.