With the Princeton University women’s basketball team trailing Illinois State 9-3 in the early going last Wednesday, Taylor Williams made her presence felt in helping to turn the tide for the Tigers.
The 6’3 sophomore center scored six points to trigger a 15-0 run which broke the game open for Princeton as it cruised to a 65-39 rout of the Redbirds.
For Williams, who played just 84 minutes for the Tigers last winter, the lowest total on the team, just being present on the court is a joy.
“It is a lot of fun being out there,” said Williams, a native of Warren, Ohio.
“We have a fun group of girls this year. The chemistry on and off the court is unreal. Getting to play with these girls and fulfilling whatever role I am placed in on this team, especially with the Ivies coming up, is really important.”
Williams is carving out a role as a key reserve down low, averaging 7.6 points and 3.2 rebounds in 18.9 minutes per game this winter for Princeton, which improved to 7-4 with the victory over Illinois State.
The center’s progress is the product of some rigorous offseason training. “Last year, I knew what to do but I wasn’t as confident with it,” said Williams.
“I put in a lot of work over the summer with individual coaches and playing pickup. I worked on post moves and a lot of one-vs-one against other players. My main focus was being dominant on the low block and now it feels good to be somewhat of a presence down low against the other team’s defender.”
Williams’ diligent approach is emblematic of Princeton’s collective mindset.
“This is a group that definitely wants to get better and consistently comes to practice with a mindset that we want to get better,” said Williams of the Tigers who are taking a four-game winning streak into the holiday break.
“Losing last year’s seniors, we knew this year wasn’t going to be easy and everybody has stepped up to their role. Everyone is prepared to work hard for the success we want in the Ivies coming up.”
Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart is pleasantly surprised by how quickly Williams has stepped up.
“Taylor Williams is critical to our team and I would never imagine saying that so quickly in her career,” said Banghart.
“She is playing with confidence and has a post presence. She really wants to be helpful and she doesn’t care how.”
The Tigers got help from rapidly improving freshman guard Taylor Brown in the win over Illinois State as she contributed nine points and eight rebounds.
“Taylor Brown is gaining her collegiate sea legs and you guys are now seeing the type of lead guard that I recruited,” said Banghart. “She has adjusted to our pace, we have been pretty hard on her.”
While Banghart wasn’t thrilled with the type of performance Princeton produced against Illinois State as it committed 28 turnovers, she is happy with the bottom line.
“I think they were a little bit bored tonight, which worries me because in the league I think there are times where you have to fight that,” said Banghart.
“We knew we wanted to play a lot of kids so I think that got us out of rhythm too. We could make a lot of excuses or just say we are 7-4 with a very, very tough schedule and just four home games.”
Upon returning from the holiday break, the Tigers will be thrown right back in the fire as they compete in the Cavalier Classic at the University of Virginia from December 28-29 where they face Alabama in the opening round and either Coppin State or Virginia in their next game.
“This doesn’t get any easier,” said Banghart, whose team will stay on the road with games at Drexel on January 4 and its Ivy League opener at Penn on January 11.
“I think we do need this mental break from each other because I have really been pushing them hard and I think you are seeing why, they are getting a lot better. I have been pushing them harder than I have pushed any other team. I think they need a few days away from my voice and I think I need a few days away from critiquing them.”
Williams, for her part, is ready to keep pushing when the Tigers head to Virginia.
“We are really excited for that, Alabama is a really good team and the other opponents in the tournament are awesome,” said Williams.
“Away trips are really good experiences for all of the players. It is a good feeling for preparation going into the Ivies; we know we worked harder than anyone else.”