January 11, 2017

PU Women’s Hoops Edged by Penn in Ivy Opener, But Young Squad Heading in the Right Direction

RUSH HOUR: Princeton University women’s basketball player Gabrielle Rush handles the ball last Saturday against Penn. Sophomore guard Rush scored a career-high 15 points but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers fell to Penn 62-57 in the Ivy League opener for both teams. Princeton, now 6-8 overall and 0-1 Ivy, hosts Brown on January 13 and Yale on January 14. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Gabrielle Rush was a member of the supporting cast last winter for the Princeton University women’s basketball team in her freshman season.

The 5’10 guard from Hinsdale, Ill. made 16 appearances off the bench, scoring 39 points.

With Princeton losing five key seniors to graduation, Rush was ready to assume a leading role this winter in her sophomore campaign.

“The opportunities were here this year so I feel like I have had a mindset shift earlier this season,” said Rush.

“I feel like I can be that person that can get someone else a shot or get a shot. Last year that didn’t really fall on me.”

Last Saturday in the Ivy League opener against visiting Penn, Rush got a lot of shots to fall, scoring a career-high 15 points. In the waning moments of the contest, however, Rush missed a 3-pointer as Penn rallied to pull out a 62-57 victory before a crowd of 857 at Jadwin Gym.

“I think it comes a lot with playing with my teammates more and more and them being able to find me in spots where I can be the most successful,” said Rush, in assessing her progress as she is now averaging 6.0 points a game.

“A few more shots dropped today than have been in the past. I would have liked that one at the end but it was a good look and my teammates got it for me.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart likes the way Rush is progressing.

“Rush was mostly a practice player last year; she wasn’t even ready to help us two months ago because she didn’t have the mindset,” said Banghart. “She plays because she is competitive, she has really gotten herself better.”

The youthful Tigers competed hard against defending Ivy champion Penn, leading 44-41 after three quarters and locked in a 51-51 tie with 4:05 remaining in regulation before sputtering down the stretch as a senior-laden Quaker squad ended the game on an 11-6 run.

“For these young guys to come out on this stage and execute our tempo and play the way we wanted to play, we have a lot to build on, for sure,” said Banghart, whose team dropped to 6-8 overall and 0-1 Ivy.

“Their seniors made big plays late and ours didn’t. That is how the game goes.”

Princeton’s top young player, freshman star Bella Alarie, made an impressive Ivy debut, scoring a game-high 17 points.

“I think Bella can play better; it is pretty awesome when you have a freshman who can score 17 and her assist-turnover ratio is pretty flat and you say she can play better,” said Banghart of Alarie, who leads the Tigers in scoring (12.0 points a game) and rebounding (7.5 a game) and was later named the Ivy Rookie of the Week for her performance.

“That is how good I feel about her. I think she is only going to continue to get better. Her shot will get quicker, she will crash the glass better, she will communicate better defensively.”

Alarie, for her part, enjoyed her first taste of Ivy competition. “I think it is definitely a huge fire with our team; we came out and it was rough in the first couple of minutes but once we made that shift mentally, we played with all of our energy,” said Alarie, reflecting on a slow start which saw Princeton trailing 10-2 four minutes into the contest.

“Our bench was so excited. Everyone on the court was jumping and celebrating each other. It was awesome to experience that. I wish we could have gotten the win but there is something really special about it being Ivy play. It is our rival, it is competitive. I really loved it.”

With the Ivy League having instituted a postseason tournament this year that will include the top four teams in the regular season standings, Banghart pointed out that the loss to Penn didn’t have the impact it might have had in the past.

“I was almost late to the game because I was shoveling snow in the driveway; I was sort of like whatever, this game is one of 14 and if you win enough you play in the tournament,” said Banghart.

“I don’t think anyone is writing us into the tournament, we have got to earn it. We have no false illusion that the tournament has a name and plaque in the locker room waiting for us. We know that these young guys have to get better for us to get there.”

Banghart saw some good signs from the fact that her callow squad battled a veteran Penn team tooth-and-nail for 40 minutes.

“That is the exact same team that we played last year and my team is one that you guys have to introduce yourself to and we could have won that game easily,” said Banghart. “We could have played better so that gives me a ton of motivation.”

With Princeton hosting Brown (9-4 overall) on January 13 and Yale (9-4 overall) on January 14, Banghart will be looking for her team to play better.

“Next weekend, we have two good teams coming into Jadwin; you have to win home games and so far we are 0-1 at home so that’s not great,” said Banghart.

“It keeps you motivated to get better; they have to play through reading period and exams. It is just a little more adversity than they have had.”

Rush, for her part, is motivated to help the Tigers do better in the wake of the tough loss to Penn. “Like coach says I am extremely competitive,” said Rush. “I like to win and hate this.”