Princeton firmly planted on top of Ivy
Quick quiz: Name the six women's college basketball teams with two or fewer losses.
The first five are easy - just look at the top of the poll. The sixth? Princeton.
Stingy defense and a balanced offense have helped the Tigers (19-2, 7-0) win 14 straight games and allowed them to take a two-game lead in the Ivy League after weekend victories over Columbia and Cornell.
Off to the best start in school history, Princeton's losses came on the road to UCLA and at home to Rutgers. In both games, the Tigers had a good chance to win and are realistically a few minutes away from being undefeated.
``Those were hard losses but we knew we were up the whole game,'' freshman Niveen Rasheed said after matching her career high with 27 points in a win over Columbia. ``If we played now, we're more mature as a team.''
Princeton's success hasn't gone unnoticed as the Tigers received votes in the Top 25 for the first time in school history. In fact, they are the first Ivy League team in recent memory to garner votes in The Associated Press' poll.
``It's nice people are starting to pay attention, but we still have a long way to go'' said coach Courtney Banghart, who at 31 is one of the youngest coaches in the country. ``We just go out and have fun and do what we can do.''
What the Tigers have been doing is playing lockdown defense. They are one of the top defensive teams in the nation giving up just under 53 points a game.
``Defense is a lot of heart and soles at the bottom of your feet,'' Banghart said laughing. ``These kids have really bought into the defensive end and take pride in holding teams to as low as possible.''
Princeton has a balanced offense led by Rasheed, who averages more than 15 points. The team features three of the conference's top five scorers. Seventy percent of the offense comes from the freshmen and sophomores which is a scary prospect for the rest of the league.
``I think when you're so young you spend a lot of your season finding out who you are. Game after game they've been defining themselves,'' said Banghart, who was an all-league player for Dartmouth in 1999 and 2000. ``The win at Drexel by 20 was a big win. We had some big non-conference victories. My kids feel like they should have and could have beaten UCLA. They realize that haven't done anything yet. They are getting better and better.''
Princeton is just two victories short of the school record set in 2005-06 - the only other time in the past decade the Tigers had a winning record. That season they shared the Ivy crown, but lost in a playoff to Dartmouth. Banghart was an assistant coach on that Dartmouth team.
``Yeah I remember it,'' Banghart said laughing. ``It's amazing how quickly your allegiances can turn. I bleed black and orange now.''
Banghart is no stranger to winning, helping as a player to guide Dartmouth to consecutive Ivy League titles in 1998-99 and 1999-2000. She led the country in 3-point shooting as a junior.
``There is some of them in me,'' Banghart said. ``There's a lot of fight in them and a lot of fun in them and hope I'm rubbing off on them.''
Princeton is bidding to make its first appearance in the NCAA tournament.
``We're all so new we don't care much about the old records,'' Banghart said. ``My first year we won seven games and the second year we were 14-14. When I talk about the past I feel like I'm leaving out a third of our team with the freshmen. This team takes a lot of pride in writing their own story. We don't know where it will go.''