Princeton women poised for another Ivy run

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(Eds: Adds photo. With AP Photos.)By DOUG FEINBERGAP Basketball Writer

There is only one thing missing from Niveen Rasheed's incredible career at Princeton: an NCAA tournament victory.

She hopes to change that this season.

Three times, Rasheed has seen the Tigers reach the NCAAs and come away empty, including last season's three-point loss to Kansas State. She doesn't want it to be four straight.

''When we were freshman, it was just, `Wow, we're happy to be in the NCAA tournament,''' Rasheed said. ''But now if we don't win a game, it definitely would be a huge disappointment.''

The Ivy League hasn't had much success in the NCAAs with Harvard earning the only tournament victory for the conference - the upset of No. 1 Stanford back in 1998.

''She and the other seniors are so hungry for that first tournament win,'' Princeton coach Courtney Banghart said. ''The culture has definitely changed here that we expect to win now. This senior class wants to be the first to do it.''

Making the NCAAs for a fourth straight year isn't a given. After all, the Tigers have 11 games left to play in the conference. But if past years are any indication, a fourth straight league title is merely a formality.

The Tigers (12-5, 3-0 Ivy) have won 27 straight conference games - the fourth-longest active streak in the country - and 49 of the past 50. The lone blemish was a loss against Harvard in 2011. Rasheed didn't play in that game after she suffered an ACL injury earlier in the season. She also missed Princeton's NCAA tournament loss to Georgetown that year.

''I think she's the best we've ever had,'' Banghart said. ''What she's done is lead the best team in Ivy history for four years and led us in every offensive category.''

Rasheed is in rare company as Princeton is 30-0 in Ivy games that she's played in. She's one of only 20 players in the country since 1999 to be undefeated in conference play with at least 30 victories according to STATS. She's arguably the most talented player on that list. But she also is one of the few who hasn't won a NCAA tournament game.

That fact bothers Rasheed. She didn't get much sleep after the Tigers lost to Kansas State.

''It's the only goal that's on everyone's minds this year,'' Rasheed said. ''It's the only thing that's been missing. We worked so hard last season. We accomplished almost all our goals, but we didn't get that win. We ended our season in disappointment. The past three years, we've been upset with the final outcome.''

Rasheed spent the offseason improving her game. She worked on being a more consistent shooter and is averaging 16.6 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists this year.

''Niveen is such a special player for what she does on both ends of the court, and the passion, leadership and intensity she brings to our program on a daily basis,'' Banghart said. ''Niveen is a winner because of how she goes about her work. She's a great player on a great team and is most deserving of the recognition she continues to earn.''

Rasheed also had to adapt to a new offensive system as Banghart decided to put in a new scheme this season.

''Most coaches would think I was crazy to go with something completely new, but it fits this team better,'' Banghart said.

The Tigers took a little while to adjust to the new offense, dropping games at Marist, Delaware, UCLA, DePaul and Villanova - all five have a good shot to make the NCAA tournament.

But the new system may help them in the long run and that's what matters most. No Ivy team has come within nine points of the Tigers during their run. That doesn't give them much of a competitive edge when preparing for a talented foe in the NCAAs.

Sensing the potential problem, Banghart strengthened her male practice squad this season. While the Tigers were off for three weeks for exams, they scrimmaged the men almost every day. They didn't come away with any wins.

''The girls haven't beaten the guys yet this year and that really sticks with them,'' Banghart said. ''We hope that they will have them more ready for the tournament.''

That would result in a win completing Rasheed's resume and career at Princeton.

''That would be the ultimate,'' she said.


Follow Doug on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dougfeinberg

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