After falling to Marist on November 17 to suffer their first defeat of the season, Megan Bowen and her teammates on the Princeton University women’s basketball team were determined to bounce back as they hit the Jadwin Gym floor three days later to host Rider.
“I think what we learned from Marist is that we are not where we want to be yet but each day we are getting better,” said senior center Bowen.
“So as coach [Courtney Banghart] said, yesterday we got better in practice from Saturday. Then today, we got better in this game than we were yesterday. Each day is a day to build and work together and become the team we want to be when it comes to the point in the season when we want to be strong with all 15.”
The Tigers were certainly better against the Broncs, jumping out to a 41-23 halftime lead on the way to a 88-42 rout before a crowd of 616 in their home opener.
In pulling away to the win, Princeton displayed its depth as 12 out of the 13 players who got in the game scored and each Tiger got at least one rebound.
“We have depth in all five positions; all five of us are looking to score and all five of us are looking to rebound,” said Bowen.
“I think coach said that in the box score tonight every single person had a rebound. That just shows you that we are a deep team so the more time the girls get in the game, the more it is going to prepare them for when we need all 15. Right now, we have 13 healthy. I think we are getting better each game.”
The 6’3 Bowen, a native of Bath, Pa., has certainly gotten better over her career, going from a little-used reserve as a freshman to the starting five this winter.
“It was definitely exciting; I have been working hard for three years to get to this point,” said Bowen, who is averaging 7.8 points and 3.0 rebounds a game this season.
“I wouldn’t say it was too much of an adjustment. You start out those first minutes in the game where Devona [Allgood] used to be. At no point was it anything that I had to be nervous about. Look at the four girls I am surrounded by, if I mess up, I have four very good players who have my back.”
Bowen acknowledges that she has big shoes to fill in following Allgood, who ended her Princeton career with 1,177 points and 802 rebounds.
“There is definitely pressure there but it is not a negative pressure by any means,” said Bowen, who scored 12 points in the win over Rider.
“I just have got to step up, take my time, make my moves, and work hard on defense. At the same time, I know I have Alex Wheatley, most often, coming for me, or even Mariah [Smith] or Kristin [Helmstetter]. I have full trust in all three of them so at no point do I feel like if I am having a terrible night that I don’t have anyone that can come in for me. That’s what I tried to provide for Devona last year. It is nice to have those people behind you.”
In order to help make up for the loss of Allgood’s offensive production, Bowen has spent a lot of time honing her shooting stroke.
“I definitely have worked a lot on my outside shot; I feel comfortable taking the shot within the three-point line although tonight my outside shot was not exactly falling,” said Bowen.
“I am not going to try and hog the post the whole time when we have these other girls. Niveen [Rasheed] is often stronger and taller than the girl she is guarding so she can get in there and post up. It is nice if my girl doubles, then I have an outside shot.”
Princeton head coach Banghart thought Princeton showed some nice progress on the offensive end in the win over Rider.
“We found out a lot of things in that [Marist] game which is why you schedule a game like that,” said Banghart.
“I thought that the steps that we made were important. For example, making the extra pass, 23 assists, tonight, which we did not do against Marist was important. Also, I thought being way more physical on the low block was important and we did those things. The things we asked them to do they did, definitely.”
Banghart likes the play she is getting from Bowen down low. “That kid has embraced her role and that is to now be a starter and a low post threat,” said Banghart.
“She’ll have some ups and downs but she is giving us exactly what I was hoping for. I am really proud of her because she is a great kid.”
While Banghart knows her team is going to go through some ups and downs as it works new players into its rotation, she is relishing the challenges ahead.
“That is the beauty of coaching, every year is different. With this particular team, we are not bringing back one kid who averaged double figures at Princeton in her life except Niveen,” said Banghart.
“We have great depth but it doesn’t matter because you only play 5-on-5 so we need to have the five that are in giving us something different than the next five that are in. So it is a fun team to coach because they all have their own strengths but the problem is they all have their own weaknesses too so we have to figure out how to limit those. It is a totally different team.”
One thing, though, that hasn’t changed is the team’s intensity. “I guess people take for granted how hard we play; I keep hearing in the handshakes before the game that you guys play so hard,” said Banghart.
“It is awesome, year after year, our kids play so hard. I think we need a little more growth on the offensive end, like tonight with 23 assists. We need a little more growth and understanding how and taking pride in setting up your teammate and moving the ball better. That comes with a brand new offense and a lot of kids. It is just going to take time. We are going to try to play hard enough to stay in games until we can sharpen up the offense again.”
Last weekend, the Tigers headed to Southern California where they topped UC Riverside 72-68 on Friday before falling 65-52 at UCLA on Sunday to move to 3-2. For Banghart, the value of the trip wasn’t dependent on wins or losses.
“I think traveling with such a new group; you learn a lot about each other and I think that is an important part of it too,” added Banghart, whose team hosts Rutgers on November 29 and UMBC on December 2.
“This is the time in the season to get your California kids home and help your recruiting base a little bit. We do a lot of recruiting out there. With this team, it is about more than competing. This team competes. They are going to compete against Riverside and they are going to compete against UCLA; we have to be able to execute.”
Bowen, for her part, looked forward to the California swing as good preparation for a journey that the Tigers hope will land them in the NCAA tournament for a fourth straight season.
“It is trip where we want to have fun, it is a holiday,” said Bowen. “We want to go out there and have a good time, winning definitely does a lot more than losing in that respect. We will prepare for them, there are adjustments you have to make along the way so we are going to have time difference, we are traveling and we are flying six hours but no excuses. You never know where you are going to end up if you make it to the tournament.”