December 9, 2015

Senior Berntsen Shows Comfort Level With New Role As PU Women’s Hoops Tops Michigan, Moves to 6-1


ON FIRE: Princeton University women’s basketball player Amanda Berntsen, right, dribbles past a foe in recent action. Last Sunday against visiting Michigan, senior guard Berntsen contributed 13 points with four assists and two steals as Princeton pulled away to a 74-57 win over the previously undefeated Wolverines. The Tigers, now 6-1, host Monmouth on December 8, Pittsburgh on December 12, and Fordham on December 14. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As the Princeton University women’s basketball team produced an epic 31-1 campaign last winter, senior guard Blake Dietrick triggered things, leading the team in points, assists, and three-pointers.

In the wake of Dietrick moving on and now playing pro ball in Europe, senior guard Amanda Berntsen knew more responsibility would fall on her shoulders this season.

“With the graduation of Blake last year, my role would be a bit different; the ball would be in my hands a lot more,” said Berntsen, a 5’9 native of nearby Chatham.

“It just came down to everyday in practice just working as hard as I could and talking with coach (Courtney Banghart) a lot, going over the offense, and going over what I am going to do.”

Stepping up to the challenge, Berntsen has been doing a lot of good things lately for the Tigers. At the Loyola Marymount Classic in Los Angeles in the last weekend of November, Berntsen made the All-Tournament team as the Tigers rolled to the title. She poured in a career-high 21 points in Princeton’s 85-48 win over Seattle in the championship game after stuffing the stat sheet with nine points, eight rebounds, and six assists to help the Tigers top UC-Irvine 83-42 in an opening round contest.

Last Sunday against visiting Michigan in a game broadcast on ESPN2, Berntsen was a catalyst for the Tigers, scoring 13 points with four assists and two steals as Princeton pulled away to a 74-57 win over the previously undefeated Wolverines and improved to 6-1.

Berntsen is feeling a comfort level with her increased responsibility. “I am surrounded by good players,” said Berntsen. “It is just me understanding my role and embracing it and just being able to play on a really good team.”

Classmate Michelle Miller, who led the Tigers with 24 points, nailing 6-of-8 three-pointers in the process, believes Berntsen brings plenty to the table for the Tigers.

“We know what Amanda can do, we have played a lot together,” said Miller, who was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week.

“There are times where you miss certain things that Blake brought last year but it is not necessarily bad. Amanda steps up in her own way and brings different things, which is good.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart is pleased with Berntsen’s mental toughness.

“Amanda is as fearless and competitive as they come,” said Banghart of Berntsen, who is averaging 10.4 points a game and leads the Tigers in assists (25) and steals (14). “When your lead guard is just that tough, you need that on your team.”

In the win over Michigan, Berntsen’s competitive fire drew plenty of cheers from the throng of 1,851 on hand as she drove hard to the basket all game long.

“It was just amazing to have this environment to have the stands pretty much filled all the way around,” said Berntsen.

“They just really brought energy and excitement and I think it carried us, especially when Michigan went on a run. We were in a scoring drought and the crowd was really there to pick us up. It was an opportunity that we can’t take for granted.”

Banghart liked the way her team rose to the occasion, building a 33-24 halftime lead and then extending its advantage over the final 20 minutes as it repulsed a third quarter run by Michigan that saw it draw to within six at 38-32.

“I told them both before and after the game that these seniors, in particular, have earned this opportunity to have a home game on ESPN2 in the national spotlight,” said Banghart.

“It is because of what they have done in the years past. We didn’t always play our best today but I thought we were the tougher team. We have grown offensively, and defensively we were the tougher team even when we weren’t as sound as we would like, so it is a big win.”

The Princeton defensive effort, which saw high-powered Michigan shoot just 35.7 percent (20-for-56) from the floor, brought a smile to Banghart’s face.

“We held them 31 points below their average,” noted Banghart. “It wasn’t just that they weren’t shooting well, they were taking shots that they don’t usually take. Our kids don’t watch quite as much tape as I do; they may think that Michigan didn’t play well but we really stifled them defensively. It is what you expect from a very experienced team.”

That experience was also reflected on the offensive end as the Tigers hit 50 percent of their shots (27-for-54) with senior forward Alex Wheatley scoring 15 points to join Berntsen and Miller in double figures and offset a subpar three-point effort from Annie Tarakchian.

“As the lights get brighter, Michelle gets better, I think the preparation that she has put in has paid off,” said Banghart.

“If you had told me that Annie was going to go 1-for-8 with five turnovers in 31 minutes, I would have thought that it was going to be a long night but we have Wheatley going 6-for-8, Michelle scoring 24, and Amanda getting 13 plus her assist turnover ratio of 2-to-1. That is what makes us hard to guard.”

The lessons learned from Princeton’s 71-64 loss to Seton Hall in mid-November will make the Tigers hard to beat over the rest of the season.

“I don’t want them to be overconfident; I put doubt in their mind early in the season because I didn’t want them to think they are too good,” said Banghart, whose team hosts Monmouth on December 8, Pittsburgh on December 12, and Fordham on December 14.

“I realize against Seton Hall I hadn’t shifted gears early enough to tell them they are pretty good and so I learned a lot from that. Today, I think they felt and they saw that they were the better team. They had more swag.”

Berntsen, for her part, believes that the team brought a winning mentality into the Michigan contest.

“In the Seton Hall game, we went in hoping we were going to win and not having the confidence that we are a better team than them and that we can win,” said Berntsen.

“Coach Banghart talked about it before; this week all of us together did a really good job of instilling in our heads that Michigan is a good team but we are a better team and it is a winnable game. It definitely shifted our mentality and I think we went into the game today with the right frame of mind.”