With Senior Smith Getting Back to Full Speed, PU Women’s Hoops Cruises Past Binghamton
After missing most of her junior season on the Princeton University women’s basketball team with a stress fracture in her right leg, Mariah Smith is just getting up to speed this winter,
“I am just now really healing up in my leg,” said Smith, a 6’0 native of Peoria Ill. who played in just seven games last winter. “Now it is maintaining and making sure the muscles are relaxed in my legs.”
Last Saturday against visiting Binghamton, senior forward Smith looked relaxed with the ball in her hands, scoring a career-high 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting with four rebounds and two assists as the Tigers cruised to a 96-58 win and improved to 10-0.
“I was posting up hard, we focused on that a lot this week and just feeling good,” said Smith. “I was getting in the groove with everything and playing with energy and playing with the flow of the game and what our game plan was.”
The Tigers certainly got into the offensive flow last Saturday as they produced a 29-4 run in the first half to break the game open.
“At the beginning of the year, we focused a lot on defense,” said Smith, who is averaging 2.6 points and 1.6 rebounds a game this season.
“After last year, it was redemption time. We have been focusing so much on that, so we had to start focusing on offense. We have so many offensive weapons so after we adjusted we can get into our offense and start having some real fun, playing to everybody’s strengths.”
As one of the four seniors on the squad, along with Blake Dietrick, Jess Shivers, and Alex Rodgers, Smith is looking to provide some strong leadership in her final college campaign.
“It is fun being a leader on this team, seeing how we helped recruit everyone on this team and with coach (Courtney Banghart) forming this team,” said Smith.
“Our leadership really shows in the team’s attitude so I am really happy with the way all of us seniors have been leading. I think our personalities are really coming through on the court and off the court as well.”
The Tigers showed a one-for-all, all-for-one attitude in the win over Binghamton as all 13 Princeton players who played in the game scored, with the reserves getting cheers from the bench when they came through.
“It is a great opportunity for us to celebrate each other and you see our bench goes wild on every play,” said Smith.
“That is us thinking of each other as a family. That is a character of how we are off the court and you see that coming through on the court in those circumstances.”
With Princeton producing the best start in the history of Ivy League women’s hoops and in school history, men’s or women’s hoops, Smith likes the way the team has been coming through.
“We looked at the schedule and we saw the big games,” said Smith.
“Wake was our first real big game and we came out and hammered them and that was a sign to ourselves that we have got something really good here. We went to Michigan on the last week of classes for all of us. We were focusing and thinking we might as well leave on a Monday and play on the Tuesday in the middle of school and hammer them if we were going to give up that school time and go.”
Princeton head coach Banghart liked the focus her squad displayed in routing Binghamton.
“It is about energy; when we play with solid energy, I think it translates to all parts of the game,” said Banghart, who got 19 points apiece from Dietrick and junior star Michelle Miller on Saturday.
“This team can score and they have also showed that they can defend. We decided that offensively now it is time to be playing more fearlessly. We had 23 assists and nine turnovers, that is just good. These guys are doing a good job.”
Banghart is happy to see Smith doing a good job in her final season.
“She is healthyish, she is certainly not at full health,” said Banghart. “I think being a senior on this team she realizes that her role is an important one. She is experienced, she is physical, she is tough, and she is versatile. I think she is playing like you would hope your seniors would play.”
In the victory on Saturday, the Tigers showed their versatility collectively as each player who got in made a contribution.
“We mix them up in practice all the time and we always tell them that you practice against good players every single day so just because they are wearing a different uniform doesn’t mean that they are better,” said Banghart.
“I hope we are continuing to bring along our younger kids because as you can see they are good players as well.”
Reflecting on her team’s 10-0 start, Banghart acknowledged that she is savoring the team’s progress.
“I am enjoying this one through the journey a little bit because back when Niveen (Rasheed) was here we had a star and we really could defend,” said Banghart.
“This year’s team is defending and playing offense. I realize how special it is to have an offensive team that has really bought into the defensive teamwork. I think they are getting the results that they want.”
Smith, for her part, believes the Tigers are in position to get some special results this winter.
“Every day we are getting better and we are seeing that, so it is pretty exciting,” said Smith.
“What we are focusing on is us and getting better every day because when we go into Ivy play it is going to be a little different. We have to find our own level and play to our level.”