January 3, 2018

Showing Progress at Both Ends of the Court, PU Women’s Hoops Primed for Ivy Campaign

ON POINT: Princeton University women’s basketball player Leslie Robinson guards a foe in recent action. Senior forward and team co-captain Robinson starred as the Tigers went 2-0 at the Gator Classic in late December. She earned All-Tournament honors, averaging 11 points and 7.5 rebounds a game as Princeton defeated St. Joseph’s 63-54 and then topped Tennessee-Chattanooga 59-49 to improve to 9-3. The Tigers, who were slated to host Maryland-Baltimore County on December 30, will start Ivy League play with a game at Penn on January 6. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

For the Princeton University women’s basketball team, competing at the Gator Classic tested its adaptability.

“It was a tale of two opponents,” said Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart, reflecting on the event which saw the Tigers face St. Joseph’s and Tennessee-Chattanooga in Gainesville, Fla. on December 20 and 21.

“So with St. Joe’s, three of their better players were in the post, outside of their leading scorer. Then with Chattanooga, their best players were the three guards. We were forced to play different ways and it was really awesome that we were able to adjust.”

The Tigers adjusted very well, defeating St. Joseph’s 63-54 and then topping Tennessee-Chattanooga 59-49 to improve to 9-3.

“It was two good mid major teams, a team we tried to schedule originally; they are a really dominant inside team,” said Banghart, reflecting on the win over the Hawks.

“Our defense was excellent, we switched at one through five.”

Defense made the difference for Princeton in the win over Chattanooga as the Tigers held the Mocs to 36.5 percent shooting and out rebounded them 44-24.

“They had beaten Northwestern, Indiana, Auburn, and Georgetown all this year and they have been to five straight NCAA tournaments; they are really good team,” said Banghart, in assessing Chattanooga.

“I told the kids this is the best team left on our schedule. It is not one guard but three guards that are equally dangerous. It is a team that adjusts quickly. One of our keys was that we are going to have to adjust throughout the game. It is not going to be one certain way to play. Our kids really stayed locked in, it was a great win for our program.”

Sophomore standout Bella Alarie and senior forward and co-captain Leslie Robinson led the way for the Tigers in Florida. Alarie was named the tournament MVP and an All-Tournament selection after averaging 18.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in the squad’s two victories while Robinson was also an All-Tournament choice, averaging 11 points and 7.5 rebounds a game.

“Bella is continuing to get better and better; she is really committed, she wants to be good here,” said Banghart of Alarie, who was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week.

“She is getting better around the rim, she is getting more relentless on the glass. She is a highly efficient player offensively. She blocks more shots than she gets credit for. Leslie is that competitor that when the going gets tough, she just gets tougher. In tough games she has shown that she is a difference. She was a difference in both games.”

While Banghart came into the winter believing that the Tigers would be competitive, their impressive start has exceeded her expectations.

“To be 9-3 with the schedule we have made, I honestly would not have guessed it,” said Banghart. “Our schedule bas been incredibly difficult. Our RPI was in the 20s before the Rutgers loss (70-50 on December 13) out of 350 programs. We are in the 30s now.”

Banghart likes the progress she is seeing at both ends of the court. “Defensively, we are getting really gritty,” said Banghart, whose team was holding opponents to 56.8 points a game and 38.4 percent shooting from the floor through its first 12 contests.

“Offensively, we have challenged post to be more of an interior presence. In the quarter court, we have asked our guards to be more relentless on the dribble attack. As we say, share it and shoot it. Both positional groups are raising their game and they are playing together pretty well too.”

With Princeton starting its Ivy League campaign at defending champion Penn on January 6, Banghart believes her squad has what it takes to regain the league crown.

“You have a pretty good sense by the end of December where you are and who you are,” noted Banghart, whose team was slated to play its last non-conference game when it hosted Maryland-Baltimore County on December 30.

“I really like this team. I think we have great versatility, we have great depth, we have a star (Alarie), we have a really good point guard (freshman Carlie Littlefield), and we have pieces that are continually evolving. It will be fun to see where this team goes.”