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Vol. LXV, No. 45
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
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LOOKING READY: Princeton University women’s basketball player Niveen Rasheed takes a shot in a practice session last week. Junior star Rasheed is returning to action after being sidelined for the team’s final 17 games last winter in the wake of suffering an ACL injury. The Tigers tip off their 2011-12 campaign by hosting Saint Joseph’s University on November 11 at Jadwin Gym.

After Memorable Summer Journey Overseas, PU Women’s Hoops Aims to Go Far This Winter

Bill Alden

Last August, the players on the Princeton University women’s basketball underwent a transformational experience as they traveled to France and Senegal.

In the view of Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart, the journey will impact both her players’ games and their perspective on life.

“I think how it helped us on the court is that we were put in situations we couldn’t prepare for,” said Banghart, speaking at the program’s media day last week.

“The teams are physical over there; they are elbowing you and it is a race to get the ball in bounds. The kids are looking at me, what is going on. We started our season on August 20; these guys know our system now a month early. I think the long term benefits of a trip like that will take form over time. It is hard to identify in each kid what way. They were all changed no doubt, you can’t not be.”

This Friday, the Tigers will take the first step on what they hope is a third straight trip to the NCAA tournament as they host Saint Joseph’s University in their season opener.

While Princeton has gone 50-8 over the last two seasons, including 27-1 in Ivy League play, Banghart isn’t focusing on numbers as her team prepares to tip off the 2011-12 campaign.

“Every year we meet with the team to talk about what their goals are; it is not my team, it is theirs,” said Banghart.

“I always say my job is to help you reach your goals — so what are they? This team’s goals are beyond that. We try to stay away from streaks. We are thinking about progressing so that come January, February, March and hopefully into March, we are better than we are now and we are a year better than we were last year.”

Banghart acknowledges that the loss of Ivy League Player of the Year Addie Micir to graduation is going to make it harder for the Tigers to get better.

“I think the big thing people have to realize is that we are going to be a really different team this year losing Addie,” said Banghart, whose team went 24-5 overall and 13-1 in Ivy play last winter.

“She led our team in minutes four years in a row; she shot the ball at 47 percent from the 3-point range and she never turned it over. This year we are going to be more athletic but we are going to be messier. We are going to have to play over 94 feet at both ends. We are going to be deeper so we are playing full court defense, trapping all over the place.”

The Tigers, though, do welcome back junior superstar Niveen Rasheed, who was sidelined for the team’s final 17 games after suffering an ACL injury against Davidson in late December.

“I forgot how good she is, to be honest, “ said Banghart of the 6’0 Rasheed, who has averaged 15.7 points a game in her career and was named first-team All-Ivy and the league’s Rookie of the Year as a freshman.

“I know she is good; I watch her all the time and I recruited her. When she came back, it is just easier. She makes the game easier for the others because she is just so dynamic and she wants to be the end of the game kid. She can literally play all over the floor and she is 100 percent. We just beat St John’s this weekend in our scrimmage and after the game, their coach said ‘I guess she is back’ and I said ‘she is better.’”

The Tigers will need better play out of junior star Lauren Polansky, the Ivy defensive Player of the year last season.

“Lauren Polansky is more important to this team than I think anybody outside our team realizes,” said Banghart.

“She is tough as nails; she changes the game literally with how she defends. She also can play the whole game if we need her to; she never gets tired. Offensively, especially since we don’t have Addie to facilitate our action, Lauren becomes very important in how she gets our team into looks. What side of the floor and who she is passing to dictates our scoring opportunities.”

The one-two tandem of senior co-captains Devona Allgood and Lauren Edwards figures to give Princeton a balanced offensive look. The 6’3 Allgood averaged 11.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last winter in earning first-team All-Ivy recognition while the 6’0 Edwards scored 11.4 points a game and canned 45 three-pointers in joining Allgood as a first-team All-Ivy selection.

“I always say that the team plays to the personalities of its leaders and I am excited to see how this team plays under new leadership,” added Banghart, who will also be looking for good work on the perimeter from her third senior, guard Laura Johnson. “They are better than I thought they would be, but they are not as good as I need them to be yet. The team has played great under the last two leaders but the team is theirs now. We are here to help I think they know that. The team is a reflection of them and I think they want that to go well.”

Banghart is expecting things to go very well this winter. “I think if we can stay healthy this team could be really special,” said Banghart, who brings a 71-45 record into her fifth season at the helm of the program. “Staying healthy is really important because our style has changed.”

In Banghart’s view, it is important for her team to play tough competition if it wants to reach its potential.

“We want to play the best,” maintained Banghart, whose squad fell 65-49 to Georgetown in the NCAA tournament, marking the second straight year it has suffered a double-digit loss to a Big East foe in the opening round of the tourney.

“We want to play the Patriot League champions in Navy. We want to play the America East champ in UMBC. We want to play the MAAC champion in Marist. We are playing Stanford, and DePaul, two top-15 teams. We want to go into every game with a competitive opportunity, not necessarily a win. We have scheduled competitive opportunities.”

The Tigers know they will get plenty of competition in their opener as they face a St. Joe’s squad that topped Princeton 70-61 in double overtime last December.

“They are a team that we lost to last year and they return all five starters,” said Banghart. “That is the kind of team that we want to play against.”

And it will mark the first step in what Princeton hopes will be a fruitful journey this winter.

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