December 19, 2018

Displaying Leadership with Game-Winning 3, Rush Helps PU Women’s Hoops Edge Marist

LATE RUSH: Princeton University women’s basketball player Gabrielle Rush dribbles past a foe in recent action. Last Saturday, senior guard and co-captain Rush hit a three-pointer in the waning seconds to give Princeton a 60-57 win over visiting Marist and their fourth straight victory. The Tigers, now 5-7, play at St. Francis-Brooklyn on December 19 and at Hartford on December 21. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

As a freshman benchwarmer for the Princeton University women’s basketball team in the winter of 2015-16, Gabrielle Rush would have had trouble imaging the situation she found herself in last Saturday evening.

With Princeton locked in 57-57 tie against visiting Marist in the waning moments of regulation, senior guard and co-captain Rush got the ball at the top of the key with an opportunity to be a hero. She responded by swishing a three-pointer with 28 seconds left that proved to be the difference as Princeton won 60-57 to earn its fourth straight victory and improve to 5-7.

“I felt confident after I let it go; I was obviously frustrated having missed the last few,” said Rush, reflecting on her game-winning shot.

“I think the fact that I got that last shot and the coaches trusted me enough gave me a little confidence that I am open, I am going to make this shot.”

It took a while for Rush to develop that confidence and she is savoring her starring role.

“It means a lot, coming from freshman year being at the end of the bench,” said Rush, a 5’10 guard from Hinsdale, Ill. who made 16 appearances as a freshman, averaging 2.4 points a game.

“I am so excited about everything happening right now with senior year coming around and I am taking the last shot. That is exciting.”

Earlier in the evening, it didn’t look like Princeton was headed to an exciting finish as it trailed 37-26 at halftime.

“Coach [Courtney Banghart] told us we needed to toughen up; we were making a lot of soft plays and not playing as hard as we can both on defense and offense,” said Rush. “We were just letting them get exactly what they wanted. It was too easy.”

Playing tough at both ends of the court, Princeton went on a 22-9 run in the third quarter to forge ahead 48-46.

“We came together in that third quarter, just coming back and getting the lead,” said Rush.

“We did not expect that, that was huge. It is just a testament to how defense really fuels offense. We were able to let that get us going.”

With 2:28 left in the fourth quarter, Marist knotted the game at 54-54 and then Tiger sophomore Sydney Boyer hit a three to give Princeton a 57-54 lead. After the Red Foxes answered with a three by Rebekah Hand, the stage was set for Rush’s heroics.

“We made the big plays when it counted; Sydney coming in and hitting that three,” added Rush, who tallied 14 points on the evening. “I feel like there were a string of plays where people just excelled where they are best. On the defensive end, we came up with some big stops.”

Rush made big plays all over the court, getting a game- high six assists and pulling down four rebounds.

“It is learning how to play, me and Sydney [Jordan] have played together so long and I found her on a couple of those mid-range shots that she is awesome at,” said Rush. “It helps when I have good targets who are there, open, catching, and making great plays.”

The Tigers have very good target with the return of junior star Bella Alarie, who was playing her third game since returning being sidelined with a broken arm and scored a game-high 24 points with two blocked shots and three steals.

“Bella is such an energy booster; she is such an emotional player, as I am, which I love,” said Rush.

“When she gets an and-one, she is so excited and we are also excited. With all of her blocks, rebounds and points, she is everywhere and where we most need her. We can go for more deflections on ball because we have her to clean things up and be on the glass.”

Princeton coach Banghart pointed to her squad’s play in the paint as a key factor in the win.

“I think the story in the second half was that we were able to go inside and that was huge,” said Banghart. “We were able to get stops and then we pounded it inside.”

Topping fellow mid-major power Marist, now 7-3, was a huge win for the Tigers.

“I knew what this game would mean; we are big name for them because we are fighting for a similar seed,” said Banghart.

“It was a huge game. It is one of the best teams on our schedule. I tried to protect them a little bit from that. We had a really light week and tried to help them understand how to play. We are getting older; I can trust them with that. This is how I want you guys to play and I expect on game day that you can do it as opposed to them having to do it all week.”

Banghart has developed a deep trust in Rush, praising the persistence the senior guard displayed in becoming an impact player for the program.

“Rush was sitting at the end of the bench her freshman year and didn’t take time off,” said Banghart of Rush who averaged 6.1 points a game last year and is now averaging 13.7 this winter.

“She learned the system, she learned college basketball. As she is leading these freshmen, she can be a really good example to them that you just trust the process and stay engaged. I think they are seeing her senior year and that is so awesome that she actually walked in their shoes having to learn the system. It  happened to the right kid and I think it bodes well for helping them grow.”

In Banghart’s view, the Tigers are growing into special. “I think people love watching this team and we are seeing why: they are getting better and better, week to week,” said Banghart, whose team plays at St. Francis-Brooklyn on December 19 and at Hartford on December 21.

“It is exciting to think about how good we can be. We are not good enough yet and we know that. I feel very battle tested with our non-conference schedule; I have a good sense of how to get them where they need to go after seeing so many different styled. I feel very comfortable with where we are.”

Rush, for her part, senses that Princeton is primed for a big winter. “I am excited for what is to come, the Ivy League is what we most look forward to,” said Rush.

“It is awesome that we are getting this momentum before coming into Ivy League. We are meshing well together and finding out who we are.”