While the Princeton University women’s basketball team hit some bumps in the road as it prepared for Ivy League play, the Tigers quickly got into cruise control as they hosted Penn last Saturday in the league opener.
Princeton raced out to a 13-0 lead and built a 29-6 advantage with 8:40 left in the first half. The Tigers never looked back on the way to a 77-47 win over the Quakers at Jadwin Gym as they improved to 10-5 overall and 1-0 Ivy.
Even though it was her first Ivy League game, freshman guard Michelle Miller had a pretty good idea of the stakes involved as the rivals met.
“We were all definitely very excited,” said Miller, a native of Pasadena, Calif.
“We had a tough non-conference schedule. We thought that would prepare us well. We are all very excited to try to defend the Ivy League title and we know that we have to earn that on the court. We are eager to keep doing that. Our first five did a great job tonight with their defensive intensity and really establishing the tone for the rest of the game.”
Although the Tigers have gone 41-1 in Ivy play in winning three straight league crowns, they know they can’t let their intensity wane.
“We know that the winner of the Ivy League gets the NCAA tournament bid and that is obviously our goal,” said Miller.
“We want to just stay focused on each game and not on overlooking any opponent. We have to make sure we know the personnel and that we execute our game plan well.”
The 5’10 Miller executed well in the victory over Penn, scoring eight points with three rebounds off the bench in 14 minutes of action.
“I am starting to feel more comfortable with my role,” said Miller. “It really helps knowing that the team’s upperclassmen have trust in me to pass me the ball and let me shoot.”
Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart trusts in Miller and her offensive ability.
“Michelle Miller didn’t come on the scene with such a dynamic presentation like Niveen Rasheed,” said Banghart.
“We knew how good she was; that kid was offered everywhere. She scored almost 4,000 points in high school. She is an offensive stud and as she continues to gain confidence, I think you’ll see that.”
Banghart liked what she saw from senior center Megan Bowen, who scored a team-high 14 points and chipped in five rebounds and a blocked shot.
“She was great on both ends, I think she was 7-for-10 which is great from the field,” said Banghart. “She is mobile and she is communicating well on the low block defensively.”
The team’s collective defensive intensity made the difference in the win over Penn.
“I thought the first five were key to start both halves,” asserted Banghart. “It is what you expect from a veteran group and what you would expect from people that are committed to our scout and the game plan. The way they came out in both halves was the key to the game.”
Banghart acknowledged that her team was hungry to get off to a big Ivy start.
“Our kids are juiced to play anybody; I was juiced because it was a chance to see these kids compete and I don’t get to do that again until February,” said Banghart, whose team is on a hiatus for exams and is not back in action until it plays at Cornell on February 1.
“The first Ivy game we kind of wanted to make a statement, more to ourselves, that our preseason schedule was worth it and that grind and that challenge got us better for right now. This is what matters. The NCAA bid is in the Ivy League’s hands and we are one step closer.”
Over the exam break, Banghart believes the team can take steps to be even sharper.
“I haven’t had to coach effort one day here at Princeton; they get up for every game and they will be up for practice,” said Banghart, noting the team will go against a scrimmage squad comprised of Princeton baseball, football, and men’s lacrosse players several times in the next few weeks to keep its competitive juices flowing.
“They are just really proud of their craft and I am happy to try to help them get better and I think they are getting better. We can practice during exams; it is good for you to get a workout in. I tell them that is always more fun than the library.”
Miller, for her part, is having fun as she works her way into the Tiger rotation.
“I just to try to come in and look for my shot as a three-point shooter,” said Miller. “I try to hold my own defensively and contribute offensively and have there not be any letdown when I come in the game.”