February 14, 2018

With Rush Providing a Spark Off the Bench, PU Women’s Hoops Posts 2-0 Ivy Weekend

GIFT OF GAB: Princeton University women’s basketball player Gabrielle Rush puts up a shot in recent action. Last Friday, junior guard Rush scored a career-high 19 points to help Princeton defeat Harvard 80-47. The Tigers, who topped Dartmouth 82-63 a night later to improve to 16-4 overall and 6-1 Ivy, were slated to host Penn on February 13 before playing at Cornell on February 16 and at Columbia on February 17. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Gabrielle Rush relishes her role as a key substitute for the Princeton University women’s basketball team.

“I think of myself as the spark off the bench, whether things are going bad or not or if we are losing or winning,” said Rush.

“Coming in off the bench, I have had a chance to watch for a few minutes, which I think is a real advantage. I can see how they are playing on defense and how they might be guarding me. On offense, I see what I need to do that is not being done or what I continue to be doing that is being done.”

Last Friday against visiting Harvard, Rush got it done, hitting two straight three-pointers in the waning moments of the first quarter as Princeton jumped out to a 17-7 lead on the way to an 80-47 rout of the Crimson.

“It is always nice to get hot early; I think Abby [Meyers] had two back-to-back right after that too,” said Rush, who ended up with a career-high 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including 4-of-6 from three-point range.

“Once someone can open up the basket, everyone is feeling more confident. Thankfully that was me tonight but other nights, it is other people. It was good to get that going in the first quarter though because we didn’t let them back in it after that point.”

Chipping in six rebounds along with an assist and a steal in the win over the Crimson, Rush is showing a more diversified game this season.

“My shot was not so good the first half of the season; during that time when I was in a very long slump I was trying to work on on my defense and getting more confident on that end,” said Rush, a 5′ 10 native of Hinsdale, Ill. who was averaging 6.9 points in 18.5 minutes a game through Princeton’s first 20 contests.

“Once you are hitting shots they come out and close harder so it is much easier to drive so I think the shooting helps me. Once I start making shots, everything seems to fall into place.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart liked the way her players took carer of business defensively against Harvard.

“This team is so fun to coach, I thought defensively we were really solid, we forced them into Plan B all the time,” said Banghart.

“I thought against Yale (a 73-59 loss on February 2) we were a little slow after the break on 50/50 balls and defensive accountability. I thought we were excellent there tonight.”

The Tigers were also excellent on offense, hitting 28-of-64 shots  (43.8 percent) with 18 assisted buckets.

“We shared the ball really well; they are really selfless and they are learning to move the ball better, which is great,” said Banghart, whose team lit it up a night later, rolling to an 82-63 win over Dartmouth as it improved to 16-4 overall and 6-1 Ivy League. “We had 39 bench points so obviously we are getting a lot from the bench.”

Banghart credited Rush with giving Princeton a lift off the bench at both ends of the court.

“I know Rush to be a great shooter but she is more than a shooter with the way she competes and how much she has improved overall defensively over time,” said Banghart.

“She had six rebounds and a lot of times she was in the right spot defensively. When you are a shooter and you can find gaps with the dribble, it opens it up for everybody else. When things weren’t going well for her, I think she looked around and thought I have got to do other things. She has a really competitive spirit and that fits me well.”

Princeton has gotten another good player back in the fold as junior Qalea Ismail recently returned to action after being sidelined last season by a knee injury.

“That kid was in the training room everyday, including Sundays, for a year and a half,” said Banghart of Ismail, who tallied eight points in the win over Harvard.

“It is such a lonely injury while the team continues to evolve. She brings us such a different dynamic on both ends. She is long, tall, fast, and quick, and she can shoot it. She is a full go.”

With Princeton slated to host Penn on February 13 in a battle for first place, Banghart believes that some home cooking can get her squad in a rhythm.

“It is a chance for these guys to play in front of their home fans and they are huge games,” said Banghart, whose team hits the road later this week for games at Cornell on February 16 and at Columbia on February 17.

“It is nice. You go through the ebbs and flows. We had no games for three weeks and then we have two games. This is like we are in game mode now and hopefully for a while.”

Rush, for her part, believes the Tigers are getting in a good flow. “Three games in five days is a lot and after dropping one to Yale and being in a fight for first place, it definitely feels good to beat Harvard at home,” said Rush. “It is always good to get a win against them and since they were just in first place, now we reclaimed that.”