March 16, 2016

PU Women’s Hoops Sees Silver Lining in Penn Defeat, Becoming 1st Ivy Team to Earn At-Large Bid to NCAAs


MARCH GLADNESS: Princeton University women’s basketball player Alex Wheatley goes up for a hook shot last week against Penn. Senior star Wheatley scored 20 points but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 62-60 to the Quakers in a winner-take-all showdown for the Ivy League title on March 8. The Tigers, who moved to 23-5 overall and 12-2 Ivy with the loss, were able to put that setback behind them last Monday evening when they received a bid to the NCAA tournament. Becoming the first Ivy team to ever be an at-large selection to March Madness, the Tigers were seeded 11th in the Sioux Falls, S.D. region and will face sixth-seeded West Virginia (24-9 overall, 12-6 Big 12) on March 18 at Columbus, Ohio in an opening round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Last March, a 30-0 Princeton University women’s basketball team seemed to get a raw deal when it was seeded eighth in the NCAA tournament and put on a collision course for a second round clash with top-seeded Maryland in its home arena.

After falling 62-60 to Penn last week in a winner-take-all showdown for the Ivy League title and its automatic berth in this year’s NCAA tourney, the Tigers, 23-5 overall and 12-2 Ivy, were nervously hoping to get an at-large bid, something that an Ivy team had never received.

This time, Princeton was pleasantly surprised on Selection Monday, getting that bid as one of the last four teams in the field and making Ivy history in the process. The Tigers were seeded 11th in the Sioux Falls, S.D. region and will face sixth-seeded West Virginia (24-9 overall, 12-6 Big 12) on March 18 at Columbus, Ohio in an opening round contest. The winner of that game will advance to a second round game on March 20 to face the victor of the clash between third-seeded Ohio State and 14th-seeded Buffalo.

“It’s an unbelievable honor to be playing in the NCAA Tournament,” said Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart, as quoted on the Princeton sports website.

“We played a very difficult non-conference schedule and we’re so grateful that the selection committee rewarded us for our body of work. I’m bursting with pride for my team that became the first team in Ivy League history to earn an at-large bid.”

After losing the nail-biter to Penn on March 8, a subdued Banghart felt her team still merited consideration for the NCAA tourney.

“I think it is two really good teams, I think it is the Ivy League’s best, going at each other,” said Banghart of Penn, who ended up getting seeded 10th in the NCAAs and will face seventh-seeded Washington in a first-round contest.

“They definitely played better, that is for sure, so we got beat. It was just two really good teams. I don’t think Penn has gotten the respect that they deserve. I know bracketology has us in there higher seeded than Penn. I think two should obviously be in. People should respect Penn, that is a really good team. They didn’t leave it in the hands of the committee, like us. I am really happy for them.”

While Banghart wasn’t sure the selection committee would give the league proper respect, she thought the circumstances dictated the historic choice.

“If they continue to go on past performnces, it is just too big of a jump for them to do it,” said Banghart.

“But if they go on the strength of the current year, these are two of the best teams in the east, without a doubt.  I think if you ask the coaches that played us, they would say that too.”

It is fitting that Princeton’s stellar senior class, which includes a pair of 1,000-point scorers in Michelle Miller and Alex Wheatley along with Annie Tarakchian, Amanda Berntsen, and Taylor Williams, will get another shot at the NCAAs.

“I think this senior class, in particular, has always had competitive toughness on the defensive end,” said Banghart of the group, which played a key role last year when Princeton topped Wisconsin-Green Bay 80-70 in the first round of the NCAA tourney to earn the program’s first win in March Madness before it fell 85-70 to Maryland in the next round.

“On offense, you have to stick your neck out and shine. Why you love them is that they are gentle souls, all five of them. If we played with the same toughness on the offensive end as we did on the defensive end tonight, which was one of our main keys, we would have won the game but we didn’t do that.”

Banghart believes that her team will be steeled by Penn loss, making it tougher in the NCAAs.

“We have really good kids, who have gotten better while they have been here so this year has been successful in the eyes of the development of our players and our people,” said Banghart.

“If we get into the NCAA tournament, I think we will have some success there.”