Sparked by Baur’s Return to Full Strength, Tiger Women’s Hoops Produces 5-1 Start
By Justin Feil
Taylor Baur is making up for lost time with the Princeton University women’s basketball team.
The senior forward posted her second career double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds to go along with three blocks, two steals and two assists in the Tigers’ 52-40 win over visiting Monmouth on Sunday as Princeton improved to 5-1.
“I know at the end of last season we all were talking about our goals and set our sights high,” said Baur, who is a co-captain of the Tigers along with classmate and good friend Bella Alarie.
“We all worked really hard during the offseason. With the coaching transition we just came in and got to work. We were all on the same page. It’s really translated into these first couple games we’ve had and we’ve come out really strong.”
Baur has been snake bitten over her first three years. She tore her ACL and missed all of her freshman season, returned to the team as a sophomore with limited time behind several stronger players, and then last year broke her foot in the first game of the year and missed more time upon her return due to a sprained ankle.
“I think it’s taught me a lot,” said Baur, a 6’2 native of St. Louis.
“As a senior, I feel like I’ve seen every angle of being injured, with not having what it takes to be on the court. I wasn’t ready (sophomore year). Then this year being able to play, it helps us be able to relate to younger players who are all in different situations. Every time I get to step on the court, this is my last year and I’ve already had a lot of it limited. So playing like it’s my last time is really important to me.”
Giving the Tigers another inside presence at both ends of the floor to go with Alarie, keeping Baur on the court is a priority for Princeton.
“She’s really important,” said Princeton head coach Carla Berube.
“She’s not a only talented basketball player, she’s also a great leader. To have her on the court, leading by example every day in practice, it just shows the younger players how hard you have to work and how that work breeds success. I love having her out there every day and, of course, we do have a really deep bench, but to have her and have her as an option has a lot to do with our success so far this year.”
For the first time this year, the Tigers had to bounce back from a loss. Princeton dropped a 77-75 overtime decision at Iowa last Wednesday.
“It’s kind of cliché, but you can learn a lot about the grit of your team, the character of your team,” said Berube.
“We never got down on ourselves. We kept fighting. When Iowa would make their runs, we would come back with our own. I also think Iowa exposed some things we’ve been harping on in practice. We need to get better on the defensive end. Also that experience, that atmosphere and environment, it felt very ‘NCAA tournament.’ You’re in a huge arena. You’re in a different region. There are a lot of fans against you. It feels like nobody is on your side and you have to stick together and execute your game plan. I think the team really stuck together and they were able to execute some things we wanted to do.”
There was also the intangible of taking a long trip together, and that time has helped Berube to get a better handle on the make-up of her team. She saw encouraging examples on and off the court. Princeton made the Iowa game exciting with Julia Cunningham’s 3-pointer sending the game into overtime, but the Tigers could not ride the momentum to a win.
“That was a heartbreaking loss,” said Baur, who had seven rebounds, four points, four assists and two blocks at Iowa.
“It’s always tough to watch the film on something like that and seeing it again. We definitely got back to work in the gym, worked on our defense and really wanted to come out and bounce back from that loss and get back on the right track. That was super important for us.”
In the win over Monmouth, Baur provided the Tigers with a lift as they pulled away from the Hawks in the fourth quarter. Princeton held a 41-37 lead going into the final quarter when Baur scored four of her 12 points, including the first points of the quarter. Defensively, she had a pair of blocks to finish the game and help Princeton hold Monmouth to three points in the fourth quarter.
“I was hoping we would get to 50, but we just barely got to 50 points,” said Berube. “Such a scoring drought was a little scary. I thought our defense wasn’t great in the first half; we allowed them some easy looks at the basket. They got some offensive boards, some things in transition. We talked about it at halftime, how we wanted to guard some things. It got a lot better in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter. I was pleased with the effort. I thought we worked really hard.”
Junior Carlie Littlefield had 12 points and eight rebounds in the win while Alarie finished with seven points, nine rebounds, four assists, three steals and a pair of blocks. Junior McKenna Haire bolstered the offense with nine points off the bench. The key for the Tigers was their defensive improvement since their loss to Iowa.
“Our big focus, one is always communication,” said Baur. “It’s making sure we’re talking on every single play so everyone knows what’s going on. But also making sure we’re in help defense and really knowing what we’re doing on screens, switching high on their shooters and keeping our hands up and owning the battle of the boards. It’s important for us.”
On an afternoon when the Tigers had trouble solving Monmouth’s zone defense, it was their own defensive prowess that delivered the win.
“My philosophy is you can be in any game offensively if you can defend,” said Berube. “If you can take away what your opponent wants to do and make them score in ways they’re not comfortable scoring. We didn’t do a good job in that category against Iowa. We made strides in the last couple practices before our Monmouth game so I was pleased with that.”
Princeton also increased its offensive chances by pulling down 20 offensive rebounds with Baur grabbing eight of them.
“We were struggling to shoot across the board, all of us, so going to the offensive glass hard and getting as many possessions on offense was really important,” said Baur.
“When you get an offensive board, it sort of deflates the defense a bit. It gets you motivated and that’s super important in the game. Everyone was crashing the boards hard. I think there was one possession where we had six offensive boards. Even though we’re not making them, those are big plays to get another shot.”
Those momentum changing plays proved critical for Princeton to get the win. Baur feels that’s the sort of impact she can make in games, and she’s been able to show her value early in the season.
“It’s great to see her healthy and able to practice every day,” said Berube. “She’s that workhorse that you love having on your team. She loves the physicality in the post. She’s a great post defender. She’s a great post rebounder. She’s going to make open looks. She finds Bella really well. They work really well together with the high-low action. She does the dirty work. She’s a great screener. You love having her on the floor. She gives her all-out effort all the time. I’m pleased with her and the work she’s put in. She’s done an awesome job. She did a good job on Iowa’s post player. It’s great having her out there.”
Baur is posting career-best statistics so far. She is averaging 8.8 points per game after scoring at 4.9 points per game clip last year. She’s snaring 6.5 rebounds per game. She already has eight blocks after having a career-high 13 last season.
“Defensively I’ve learned so much,” said Baur. “I feel like you get away with a lot of stuff in high school. I’ve learned so many different things defensively. I’ve found my voice on the defensive end communicating. Offensively, I definitely have worked on my post moves and I feel like it’s paying off. And my mid-range (jump shot), I worked on a lot. I’ve grown a lot since coming in as a freshman and I think it’s been awesome.”
Baur has developed into a strong leader as well for the Tigers. She and Alarie are the only seniors on the roster and they are pushing their younger teammates.
“It’s such an honor to be a leader on this team, especially with my best friend, Bella,” said Baur. “We have really high hopes on the court. Off the court it’s like this is our family. It means so much to us. We want to do the program right and do all of our teammates right. They’re our best friends. This means a lot more than just wins on the court to us.”
Princeton will return to the court on December 1 when it hosts St. Francis-Brooklyn. Later in the month, Baur is looking forward to a Homecoming trip to Missouri. The Tigers play at Missouri on December 18 and then come to her hometown when they play at St. Louis on December 20.
“It’s about 10 minutes from my house,” said Baur. “We’ll have a team dinner at my house in between games. That’ll be fun. I get two games in the area.”
Baur is looking for as many games as possible. She can apply for another year with another school because she missed her freshman season due to her knee injury. She’s started strong in making the most of her final year with Princeton, and is working to make sure the Tigers bring their momentum into next month.
“It’s always defense, defense, defense,” said Baur. “We can always improve on that. If you stop a team defensively, that fuels your offense and deflates them. That’s a huge component of what we’ll be working on over the next couple weeks and definitely getting up shots after the last game. Once we put the two together, it’s a recipe for success. That’ll be awesome.”