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Wheatley Thriving in Move to Starting Lineup As PU Women’s Hoops Seeks Best Combination

WHEAT HARVEST: Princeton University women’s basketball player Alex Wheatley, foreground, hustles after a loose ball in a game last winter. Sophomore forward Wheatley has moved into the starting lineup for the Tigers this season and is averaging 11.1 points and 6.0 rebounds a game. Princeton, now 3-4, plays at Navy on December 6.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

WHEAT HARVEST: Princeton University women’s basketball player Alex Wheatley, foreground, hustles after a loose ball in a game last winter. Sophomore forward Wheatley has moved into the starting lineup for the Tigers this season and is averaging 11.1 points and 6.0 rebounds a game. Princeton, now 3-4, plays at Navy on December 6. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Alex Wheatley, moving into the starting lineup for the Princeton University women’s basketball team this winter has given her an increased sense of urgency.

“That is different, that is fun,” said the 6’2 sophomore from Upper Holland. Pa. reflecting on her promotion which comes in the wake of a freshman season that saw her come off the bench in all 29 of her appearances. “It makes you be ready for when the whistle first blows.”

Wheatley and her four classmates on the team put in extra time as they prepared to make a bigger contribution this winter.

“We all worked a lot over the summer and really tried to get stronger in preparation for this year,” said Wheatley, whose fellow sophomores include Amanda Berntsen, Michelle Miller, Annie Tarakchian, and Taylor Williams.

“Just mentally, not being freshman, I think it helps to be able to run the plays and to understand the game a little bit better on defense. I am really trying to bring something new to the team.”

Last week, Wheatley brought a lot to the Tigers in a 74-65 loss to St. Joseph’s as she scored a team-high 14 points and contributed three rebounds and two assists.

“I was happier with how I played,” said Wheatley. “I have a lot more to work on, but just like the game for the team, I thought it was a step forward for me.”

Wheatley acknowledged that the Tigers need to step things up at the defensive end. “I think defensively we need to communicate more,” said Wheatley. “St. Joe’s is a very good team. They shot really well, they are very good at moving on offense with screens and all of that. We were learning as we went.”

The Tigers have been good learners as they strive to get on the right page in the wake of losing four starters to graduation.

“I think we are getting better with every practice,” said Wheatley. “I think we have good chemistry. I love my teammates.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart saw improvement in her squad against St. Joe’s, even in defeat.

“I like where we are today based on where we were on Saturday,” said Banghart. “We were much better at getting the ball inside. We were much more aggressive off the dribble. We are getting the ball out in transition better. They have made major steps from last Saturday and last Tuesday’s games.”

The Tigers do have to get much better on defense. “Defensively, there is not a lot of trust yet,” said Banghart.

“It starts with yourself, trusting that you can guard off the dribble and then next to that is trusting that your teammates will be there. We are just not there defensively yet but I would rather know that now. There is lots of time to fix it and they have to see it.”

Banghart acknowledges that she has yet to figure out her best lineup. “I would say we are still trying to find the right combinations,” said Banghart, whose team headed to Oregon last weekend where it topped Portland State 94-76 in Saturday before falling 110-90 to the University of Oregon a day later in moving to 3-4.

“We are still trying to find what the matchups are. We don’t have our fighting eight, we are kind of a fighting vague 10.”

Although the Tigers may be still be trying to find themselves, they haven’t lost the fighting spirit that has helped the program win four straight Ivy League titles.

“I think there is a little bit of a heavy heart because they don’t like to lose,” said Banghart of the Tigers who will stay on the road as they play at Navy on December 6.

“I think fortunately with this group, that hunger to get better overrides the heavy heart. This is no reason to hang your heads. I told them if you wanted to win a guaranteed 20 games, I should have scheduled differently. I care about being really good in January with a really young team.”

Wheatley, for her part, isn’t fazed by the challenging slate of non-conference games.

“I think, like coach is saying, our schedule is one that give us experience, not necessarily wins,” said Wheatley.

“They are meant to be tough games and we are supposed to get better after every one. We still have games left in the preseason and we are going to give them our all.”

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