Senior Co-Captain Smith Proud of Team’s Progress As PU Women’s Hoops Earns Spot in Ivy Tourney
LAST STAND: Princeton University women’s basketball player Vanessa Smith looks to pass the ball in a game earlier this season. Senior star Smith played well last weekend in her final games at Jadwin Gym, scoring 15 points as Princeton defeated Columbia 78-45 on Friday to clinch a spot in the upcoming Ivy League tournament and then chipping in 10 a night later as the Tigers fell 55-44 to Cornell. Princeton, now 14-10 overall and 8-3 Ivy, plays at Harvard on March 3, at Dartmouth on March 4, and at Penn on March 7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
After losing its first two Ivy League games this winter, the Princeton University women’s basketball team did some soul searching.
“We didn’t start the Ivy season the way we wanted to and it put a little fire in our bellies,” said Princeton senior guard and co-captain Smith.
“We decided that we were going to take control of our season. It started with everyone on the team saying that we are going to start playing our game.”
The Tigers raised the level of their game after that, proceeding to win seven straight games heading into last weekend.
“I think really homing in defensively, playing personnel against teams, and locking them down,” said Smith, a 6’1 native of Twinsburg, Ohio reflecting on the team’s recent surge.
“It is having fun on offense and playing the offense that we know and that we play well.”
With Princeton playing its final regular season games this year at Jadwin Gym last weekend as it hosted Columbia and Cornell with the annual Senior Night ceremony taking place before the game with the Big Red, Smith was savoring the team’s progress.
“Jadwin is home for us so these last two games are going to be meaningful for us,” said Smith. “It means so much just thinking about how everyone is developing.”
On Friday against Columbia, the Tigers took another step in that development process, pulling away to a 78-54 win over the Lions.
“We had four in double figures,” said Smith, who tallied 15 points with two rebounds, a steal, and an assist in the victory. “We are peaking at the right time so it means a lot to me that this is where we are right now.”
By beating Columbia, Princeton clinched a top-four finish in the league standings and a spot in the upcoming Ivy tournament.
In Smith’s view, defensive intensity paved the way for the win as the Tigers broke open a game that saw them leading 35-28 at halftime.
“We came in after halftime and we wanted to focus on defense, doing the things that we didn’t do so well in the first half and playing defense as a team,” said Smith.
“We were all just very excited, stretching our legs towards the end of it. We are ready to finish off the season sharp.”
Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart is excited about the leadership she is getting from seniors Smith, Taylor Brown, and Jackie Reyneke this winter.
“I give all the credit in the world to the seniors because they made sure this was about our journey and not about any one result,” said Banghart.
“We have had four knee surgeries this season. It has just been one of those years. The fact that we have four to play and we are playing for an Ivy title, there is no other reason than our three seniors.”
Banghart credits Smith with being a catalyst of Princeton‘s eight-game winning streak.
“It is a stats game and if you look that eight-game run here in the league just see her stats,” said Banghart of Smith, who is now averaging 7.4 points a game.
“In the league it comes down to a time where you have to lead by example. The way that Vanessa is approaching the preparedness, the way she is staying engaged with what we are asking her to do offensively with her classmate Taylor Brown and Jackie Reyneke, with her energy off the bench. They are leading by example and that is what we need. This is not anyone else’s time but our seniors.”
In the win over Columbia, the Tigers showed energy at both ends of the court.
“I thought defensively it was pretty consistent all across the board; it was a really tightly called game,” said Banghart.
“Offensively, we did what we do in the second half which is to be willing to create for other people off the dribble. Our post game was more dominant. It is hard to come out after not playing well in the first half. That is my team, as it gets harder, they get better.”
While Princeton suffered a hard loss as it fell 55-44 to Cornell on Saturday to see its eight-game winning streak snapped, Banghart is thrilled with the team’s progress as it has gone through its Ivy campaign.
“We are just a better team; we needed January,” said Banghart. “We are way better defensively. This group has found their relentless grit and they also play with much more confidence on offense. We are getting more from our pieces so it is not Bella (Alarie) with 30 and everybody else with six. We had almost six players in double figures in these games. So offensively it is people playing with confidence.”
With the Ivy tourney taking place on March 11-12 at the Palestra in Philadelphia, Banghart is confident that the Tigers, now 14-10 overall and 8-3 Ivy, will keep playing with grit.
“I am thrilled,” said Banghart, whose team wraps up regular season play with games at Harvard on March 3, at Dartmouth on March 4, and at Penn on March 7. “Obviously, we could just as easily not be in a great spot but heck yeah the tournament is going to be awesome.”
Smith, for her part, is looking for a great postseason run. “We are confident and we are excited,” said Smith. “We are honored to be able to punch a ticket in the tournament tonight but we have our eyes on the prize and it is getting better one game at a time.”