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.”