Amanda Berntsen was an afterthought for the Princeton University women’s basketball team last winter in her freshman campaign, playing a total of 152 minutes in 23 appearances.
Determined to be a bigger contributor for the Tigers as a sophomore, Berntsen put her nose to the grindstone during the offseason.
“Last year I got some minutes but not too much,” said Bentsen, a 5’8 native of Chatham, N.J.
“I worked hard over the summer. I just took tons of shots. I have just been able to develop poise and confidence being the point guard and I think that has carried me a long way. Now I am able to do things that I just didn’t have the confidence to do on the court last year. Defensively, I just learned how to play college defense.”
Last Sunday, Berntsen did some big things down the stretch to help Princeton rally for an 84-80 win in overtime against visiting Delaware. With 2:29 left in regulation, Berntsen hit a three-pointer to knot the contest at 70-70.
In overtime, Berntsen made a bucket on a beautiful left-handed layup through traffic and then delivered a deft touch pass that led to a three-pointer by Blake Dietrick. The sophomore canned a free throw with seconds left to help seal the victory.
Noting that Princeton had lost 59-58 at Delaware last season, Berntsen saw the dramatic win over the Blue Hens as a big step forward for the 6-4 Tigers.
“It was a great test and that is what our coaches want us to do with this schedule they have given us,” asserted Berntsen, who ended the game with eight points, six rebounds, and two assists.
“We definitely showed today that our team is coming together and playing together. We showed enormous toughness and enormous heart to come together.”
Berntsen showed some courage in nailing the crucial three-pointer, her first basket beyond the arc all season.
“I saw I was wide open and I needed to catch and shoot and that’s what I did,” recalled Berntsen, who is now averaging 5.5 points and 3.5 rebounds a game.
“It was a good time for it to come. It felt really good. Blake [Dietrick] did a great job of drawing two people to get the open shot so credit to her. I was getting a little frustrated, I wasn’t hitting that much from the outside. I lost a little bit of my confidence but coach [Courtney Banghart] and I talked last week and she said they are going to fall, you just need to get confidence now.”
On her layup in overtime, Berntsen did what comes naturally to her. “Driving to the basket is my favorite thing to do, I have been doing that my whole life,” said Bentsen.
“If I can get into the paint and people don’t converge, I am going to take it myself. If not, I am going to look to kick it out for my teammates. Coach has challenged me to do that to open up for my teammates and that’s what I have been working on.”
Growing up about an hour away from Princeton, Berntsen is drawing a cheering section at Jadwin Gym.
“My high school coach was here and I also have teammates that are a couple of years younger than me,” said Berntsen.
“I didn’t get a chance to play with them but they all came out. My parents come. It really helps having that home support group come out. We have a lot of people on the team from the west coast and it is just nice to get fans here for them. It is also really encouraging.”
Princeton head coach Banghart was encouraged by her team’s performance against Delaware.
“That is a game we would not have won two weeks ago,” asserted Banghart.
“We talked about process with a young team the whole time. You have seen how much this team has grown. There is a little bit of a makeover for both teams but they are two championship cultures so we knew it was going to come down to a combination of tactical play and toughness.”
Princeton needed a combination of good inside-out play to pull out the victory which saw the Tigers trailing 74-70 with 1:30 left in regulation.
“I thought the key was that we had pieces of everybody,” said Banghart, who got a game-high 22 points from Dietrick with Kristen Helmstetter chipping in 18 points and 11 rebounds and Alex Wheatley contributing 13 points, three rebounds, and three assists.
“Wheatley had a big steal late and made two big free throws. Amanda made a big 3, I think it was her first of the year and a nice finish. Kristen and Blake were so consistent throughout the game. I thought they were what we needed when we needed it.”
In Banghart’s view, the consistent work ethic displayed by Berntsen has led to her improvement.
“She is a kid who didn’t waste one second of her freshman year and the same thing with Taylor Williams,” said Banghart. “Those are kids you didn’t see a lot last year but they gave us everything they had for every practice, all 112 practices last year. The way we practice is why our kids get better.”
Having won five of its last six games, the Tigers are getting better and better,
“In order to challenge ourselves to get better, you have to play really good teams,” said Banghart, whose team hosts Illinois State on December 18.
“I went in there and said I don’t have a lot to say because I want to hear what you have to say. One of the kids who didn’t even play said it was 1 through 14, it was a team win. That’s how we practice and that’s how we play.”
Berntsen, for her part, liked the way the team played as one in the win over Delaware.
“In the past few games, we played really well together too and we have had moments but I think this was just a game where we won it off of playing together,” said Berntsen. “It just feels awesome. It is a great home win.”
And with Berntsen feeling more and more at home on the court, she should be experiencing plenty more great moments this winter.