Ivy League women's hoops off to superb start
NEW YORK (AP) Fresh off Princeton's historic season, Ivy League women's basketball is on the rise.
With a record number of non-conference victories this winter, the league known more for its academics than its athletics, is starting to be a force on the court.
Princeton's undefeated regular season and advancement to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year put a spotlight on them - and the strides made by the league.
No Ivy team had won an NCAA game since Harvard upset Stanford in 1998 - the only 16 seed to beat a 1 in the tournament.
''It's amazing the talent I've seen in the last few years,'' Columbia coach Sheila Roux said. ''Princeton had a huge piece to do with that showing that you can be an elite athlete and get a great education, too.''
Roux has guided Columbia (11-4) to the most non-conference wins in school history in her first season. She took over the position as interim head coach in September when Stephanie Glance stepped down to take over as executive director of the Kay Yow Fund. Roux, who has been at the school for three years, inherited a young roster with 11 freshmen and sophomores.
''Really, really proud of what we've done,'' Roux said. ''They believed in us and bought in.''
While the Lions may not have that signature victory yet, they are well on their way to having the school's second winning season since starting Division I play in 1986.
Like Columbia, Brown has also gotten off to a superb start. The Bears finished their non-conference schedule with 12 victories, the second-most in school history. Unlike the Lions, the Bears have won six league championships, the last coming in 2006.
Those two schools have been a big reason why the league's eight teams have gone 70-44 in non-conference play. That's the eighth best mark for a conference this season, trailing the Power 5 schools and the Big East and West Coast Conference.
It's also the most wins in the NCAA era for the Ivy schools, surpassing last year's mark of 68. Penn still has three Big Five games remaining and if the Quakers can sweep them it would give the conference more wins than the 1977-78 season when the Ivies had 72.
''There's no doubt about it. It's going to be a long journey for someone,'' Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said. ''I definitely believe that. I said that to them in the locker room. The group of games we have to play, the back to backs, this is great basketball here. There's a long way to go for whoever is going to represent our league.''
Penn already has the early lead in the Ivy race - or the 14-game tournament as it's known since the league is the only one without a postseason tournament. The Quakers beat Princeton by two points last Saturday.
The Tigers, who have won five of the last six league titles, now have a few weeks to recover from that defeat. They are off until Jan. 29 because of exams. Coach Courtney Banghart knows that it won't be as easy to win another title this year. Since the league went to its double round robin format in 1986-87, the champion has had three losses or less. That could change soon.
''This is a much better league than it's been,'' Banghart said. ''It's going to be a battle, and that's what you want. ... It's not a two-man race by any stretch. It's been a two-man race the last few years, but now people will be checking scores more than the past and that's a great testament to the coaches in the league.''
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