Princeton Women’s Hoops Tops American, Entertaining the First Family in the Process
Looking at the Princeton University women’s basketball schedule, its game at American University last Sunday didn’t appear to be anything special.
While American, a member of the Patriot League, went 22-10 last winter on the way to the WNIT, the matchup didn’t generate the buzz of taking on a Top-25 foe.
Yet, courtesy of Tiger freshman forward Leslie Robinson, the niece of first lady and Princeton alumna Michelle Obama (nee Robinson) ’85, the trip to Washington D.C. turned into a weekend to remember.
With Robinson’s special family ties, the Tigers got red carpet treatment. “We headed down on Saturday; we had a private tour of the White House,” said Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart. “We got to go on the White House court and played a pick up game.”
Mrs. Obama and daughters, Malia and Sasha, were on hand Sunday evening as the Tigers took on the Eagles.
“It was a great college environment, around 2,000 were there with the presence of the Obamas,” said Banghart.
With Princeton up 36-26 at halftime, the Tigers got a special message at intermission.
“Michelle came in at halftime, telling us how much she was enjoying the team and how she and her daughters were having a good time,” said Banghart, whose team posed for photos with the Obamas in the locker room.
Banghart enjoyed seeing her team come out in the second half and pull out a 63-56 win over American. “They were attentive to the game plan,” said Banghart, who got 19 points from senior guard Blake Dietrick with Michelle Miller chipping in 15.
“When a team is down by 10 in the second half like American, they play with reckless abandon and take chances. You can’t prepare for that. We weathered that OK. We didn’t make all the free throws but we got some big offensive rebounds.”
The Tigers are off to a big start this season as the victory improved their record to 4-0.
“I am happy that they are committed to the right things defensively, talk is just talk but they are showing it in their play,” said Banghart, whose team was at its stifling best when it topped Drexel 59-43 last Wednesday in its home opener and is only giving up 51.0 points a game and holding foes to a .345 field goal percentage.
“We haven’t hit our stride offensively. We have played teams from four different conferences with three of the games on the road.”
Star point guard Dietrick has hit her stride in the early going, averaging 13.3 points and 5.0 assists per game.
“Blake has started off the year strongly; she is the lead guard and has done a good job of handling the ball and getting everyone involved,” said Banghart of Dietrick, who was named the Ivy League Co-Player of the Week along with Penn’s Sydney Stipanovich. “She knows how important her role is and that she also needs to make shots.”
Two juniors, Annie Tarakchian and Amanda Berntsen, have been making important contributions this season. Tarakchian posted the team’s first double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds in the win over American while Berntsen had a career-high five steals in the win over Drexel.
“Annie is a great rebounder and is committed to that part of the game; she is a work in progress on defense and the offensive end, she is improving in those areas,” said Banghart.
“Amanda gives us a ton of energy, extreme focus, and is a relentless competitor. Her role is usually to shut down the other team’s best player.”
Banghart is looking to see other players step up. “We need to continue to build depth; we have a solid eight,” added Banghart, whose squad is averaging 65.0 points a game with seven players averaging 5.0 or more points led by Miller at 14.0 points per contest.
“Robinson has been a positive addition, bringing energy at both ends of the court. Vanessa Smith is attacking better than she did last year.”
The Tigers will be hoping to enjoy another positive experience on the road as they head to Mexico this week to take part in the 2014 Cancun Challenge. Princeton is slated to play Wake Forest on Thursday, Montana on Friday, and UNC-Charlotte on Saturday.
“Wake is tough, I think I would rather play them at their own gym than in this situation,” said Banghart.
“Charlotte and Montana are two very solid teams. They will be three tough games in a row. It will be more adversity. We are finding solutions in discomfort. Our goal is to make them uncomfortable in the preseason.”