Courtney Banghart experienced an uncomfortable feeling of deja vu as her Princeton University women’s basketball team trailed Florida State 31-19 at halftime last Sunday in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
“It was like the Harvard game, we just couldn’t hit a shot,” said Princeton head coach Banghart, referring to her team’s 58-55 loss to the Crimson on March 1 which saw Princeton hit just 25.8 percent (16-of-62) of its shots.
Going into the dressing room on Sunday in Waco, Texas, the ninth-seeded Tigers had shot a dismal 20.6 percent (7-of-34) while the eighth-seeded Seminoles hit on 14-of-28 shots in building their halftime cushion.
Despite the ice-cold shooting and the deficit, Banghart was far from discouraged as she spoke to her players at intermission.
“Basically I told them we could not have played worse and we were still in the game,” recalled Banghart.
“I told them your toughness, relentlessness, and competitive fire was what kept you in the game and you had to start making shots. I told them to be the Princeton team we brought here.”
Princeton showed its trademark fire in the second half, going on a 10-0 run to narrow the Florida State margin to 38-37 with 11:07 remaining in regulation.
“I was thinking we might be able to steal it,” said Banghart, acknowledging that her team still wasn’t in a groove despite the surge.
But Princeton never got closer as the Seminoles went on a 16-2 run on the way to a 60-44 triumph.
In reflecting on the defeat, which left Princeton with a final record of 22-7, Banghart said the numbers just didn’t add up for the Tigers.
“When you make 19 turnovers, shoot 25 percent (17-of-67) from the field and 40 percent (4-of-10) from the line, you don’t give yourself the chance to win, especially in the NCAA where there are 64 very good teams,” said Banghart, who got nine points and nine rebounds from senior star Niveen Rasheed with sophomore Blake Dietrick scoring nine and freshman Michelle Miller adding eight points.
The loss ended a very good run for the Princeton seniors, who helped Princeton win four straight Ivy titles and go 96-20 overall and 54-2 Ivy over their careers.
“In life, you are not judged on one day,” said Banghart, whose Class of 2013 included two-time Ivy Player of the Year Rasheed, three-time Ivy Defensive Player of the Year Lauren Polansky, together with Megan Bowen, and Kate Miller.
“The seniors have a lot to be proud of, with the way they have treated everyday. I would have liked us to play better, it is a memory that will be with us forever.”
While those seniors won’t have a memory of an NCAA win, they have sparked some key breakthroughs for the program.
“I think when you are in the NCAA, you have a shot,” said Banghart. “To be in the Top 30 RPI) Ratings Percentage Index) the last two years, that is getting over a hump. Getting to the point where you have won four straight Ivy titles, that is getting over the hump.”
Drawing a player like Rasheed certainly helped Princeton get over the hump. “We knew we were getting an impactful player, what we didn’t know about was the charisma, infectious energy and commitment to getting better that she also brought,” said Banghart of Rasheed who ended her career with 1,617 points, the fourth-most in program history.
“She has left a legacy. She brought attention to the league and handled herself so well in the process.”
Rasheed, for her part, tipped her hat to Florida State. “I think they did a great job, but honestly when it came down to it, we just didn’t make our shots and we just took ourselves out of the game,” said Rasheed in the postgame quotes statement issued by the NCAA.
“They played great. They were long and aggressive just like we expected but nothing we couldn’t handle. It’s kind of unfortunate that it came down to us just letting ourselves down.”
While the loss was a downer, Rasheed believes Princeton will remain on the upswing.
“I can definitely see this program not taking a downturn at all, reloading every year,” said Rasheed.
“It makes us feel better that we built this program to what it is, and not letting it go to waste.”
Banghart, for her part, feels good about the future for the Tigers. “With Nicole [Hung] and Kristen [Helmstetter] coming back as seniors, the sophomores like Blake [Dietrick] and Mariah [Smith] who improved so much this year and the spirit of the freshman class [Michelle Miller, Alex Wheatley, Annie Tarakchian, Amanda Berntsen, and Taylor Williams], I like the foundation,” said Banghart.
“Those freshman kids came early to practice everyday, looking to get better. If we had to rebuild, the seniors wouldn’t be doing their job. They are leaving a legacy that extends beyond them. As Niveen said in the press conference, the team is in good hands.”