Niveen Rasheed’s shot was off last weekend but that didn’t upset the senior star for the Princeton University women’s basketball team.
Although Rasheed hit just 11-of-36 shots for a 30 percent clip, she was thrilled to help Princeton top Dartmouth 77-65 on Friday and defeat Harvard 67-51 a night later.
“It’s OK when I have an off shooting day, I don’t really care because we are still winning the game and we have players like Blake [Dietrick] and Michelle [Miller] coming off the bench and making up for it,” said 6‘0 senior guard Rasheed, a native of Danville, Calif.
“That just shows you about our team. I am a little off, but that’s why I got my teammates covering my back. As long as I am playing good defense and making an effort on the court, I still feel like I am making a contribution.”
Rasheed was happy to see the Tigers produce a better effort against Harvard than they did Friday in a subpar performance in the win over Dartmouth.
“Yesterday was just a negative feeling after the game; even though we got the win, it didn’t feel right,” said Rasheed, who scored 25 points in the win on Friday.
“It was great to see the team rally back and come with intensity. Harvard played their best, better than we have seen them play on film. They gave us a battle but I was proud of everyone; it was a total team effort right there. In the battle with the Crimson, Princeton trailed 15-7 early in the first half but then hit four straight three-pointers to seize control of the contest.
“It was a very mature thing for us to not get down,” said Rasheed. “Our backs were against the wall so we just turned it up and went on our run. We got hold of the momentum and we kept it and didn’t look back.”
The wins helped Princeton maintain its momentum in its quest for a fourth straight Ivy title as the Tigers improved to 16-5 overall and 7-0 Ivy League, two games ahead of second place Penn and three games ahead of Dartmouth and Harvard.
“You know that both these teams really needed this win and wanted this win and even if they were two games down in the league, beating us would have been huge for them,” said Rasheed, who ended up with 17 points and 10 rebounds in the win over the Crimson which was the 31st straight league triumph for Princeton. “So both teams came in fighting and they gave us games both nights.”
With the games winding down for Rasheed and her classmates, she is not taking anything for granted.
“We know we have the leadership role on this team and we are cherishing every moment,” said Rasheed.
“It’s sad, knowing that this is the last time we will ever see these teams. It is definitely bittersweet and we are enjoying every moment.”
Rasheed is nearing some more milestone moments in her stellar career as she ended the weekend with 1,497 career points.
“Once I hit 1,000 points, I haven’t thought about that,” said Rasheed, the Ivy Player of the Year last season who is leading the league in scoring (16.9) and is second in rebounding (9.2). “Now it is one mission, one goal, get to that tournament and get that win.”
While the Tigers hit some bumps in their non-conference schedule working in some new faces and adapting to a different offense, Rasheed believes that things have come together.
“It took us a little while; we have such a young team with some new players,” said Rasheed, who was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week for a third straight time.
“Our offense is clicking, our defense has been solid. Our freshmen are getting experience, our sophomores were key contributors to this game. It is really comforting knowing that when you go on the bench, there is going to be the next five coming in with the same energy and attack.”
Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart, for her part, is comforted by her team’s depth which was on display Saturday as the bench players outscored the starters 35-32 with back-up point guard Dietrick scoring a career-high 19 points and Miller adding eight.
“It is great, that second group is very offensive and if they continue to progress defensively, we are going to get even better,” said Banghart.
“That is why it is a team, you can’t be good at everything, you have to have people who are good at everything and that’s what we have.”
The Tigers need a solid team effort to subdue the Crimson. “This was a great battle, a good Ivy League game,” said Banghart.
“It was two teams playing hard. Harvard was desperate for a win, coming into our gym already with two losses and we matched and exceeded that effort. We gave up maybe 20 second half points against a team that we held to 17 points below their average. That is sign of a good team.”
All the signs now point to Princeton making it four straight Ivy crowns. “We said it was separation weekend so no doubt, I think we separated ourselves really nicely,” said Banghart.
“We have one more road weekend and two more home weekends so if we take care of our business we will be what we wanted to be at the beginning of the year which is Ivy League champs.”
The presence of Rasheed helps separate the Tigers from their league foes.
“As the lights turn on, Niveen Rasheed comes to play,” said Banghart.
“It is what we have come to expect, it is what you guys come for, it is what the fans come for. We are running out of time with her, so people should come and enjoy her.”
Banghart is determined to help her players make the most of their time over the balance of the regular season.
“I like our defense but offensively we need to understand pace, timing, recognition, and purpose,” said Banghart, whose team hosts Columbia (3-18 overall, 1-6 Ivy) on February 22 and Cornell (11-10 overall, 3-4 Ivy) the next day.
“We show signs of that and then signs of not. It is just tinkering and critiquing and getting really picky.”
Rasheed, for her part, acknowledges that the Tigers must pick up their game if they are to achieve their lofty goals.
“It doesn’t really matter where we stand in the league, if we are three games up or not,” said Rasheed.
“We still have to get better and not get complacent about how we play because we have a bigger mission. We can’t develop bad habits, we have to play better basketball and we have a lot of things to work on.”