Princeton women seek 1st NCAA tourney win

Niveen Rasheed and Princeton can achieve their biggest goal

without having to beat Brittney Griner and top-ranked Baylor.

The Tigers (22-6) will try Sunday for their school’s first NCAA

tournament win in their fourth straight season as Ivy League

champions.

A victory over Florida State (22-9) likely would mean a game

against the defending champion Lady Bears, who open against Prairie

View A&M as the top seed on their home court in the first round

of the Oklahoma City Region.

”Once we got in Waco yesterday, everything just kind of hit

me,” said Rasheed, a two-time Ivy League player of the year.

”It’s tournament time. Tomorrow is the biggest game of our

lives.”

Rasheed and backcourt mate Lauren Polansky, another senior, were

wide-eyed freshmen when the Tigers earned the school’s first NCAA

berth in 2010. Princeton lost to St. John’s by 18 as No. 11 seed,

then to another Big East opponent in Georgetown by 16 as a 12th

seed a year later, when Rasheed missed most of the season with a

knee injury.

The big disappointment came last year, when Princeton improved

to a ninth seed – same as this season – but lost to Kansas State by

three not too far from home, in Bridgeport, Conn. The

happy-to-be-here gang has evolved into something of a

we’d-better-get-this-one bunch.

”I have wasted too many valuable hours of my life re-watching

that game, re-watching the possessions and recognizing maybe there

was something I could have done differently, and there were

certainly things we all could have done differently,” said

Princeton coach Courtney Banghart, who has been part of eight of

the past 15 Ivy League titles as a player and assistant at

Dartmouth and now with the Tigers. ”You don’t prepare for the end

because you don’t see it coming, and I’m not prepared for the

end.”

Rasheed averages 16.9 points per game and also leads Princeton

(22-6) in rebounding, assists and steals. But the career 46-percent

shooter is just 13 of 36 (36 percent) in two tournament games, and

is wary of not overhyping herself into a bad game.

”Maturity hopefully has taught me that,” said Rasheed, who

scored 20 in last year’s loss to Kansas State. ”It’s my fourth

year, so definitely living, treating it as just another game, not

getting caught up in the moment. The tournament definitely puts a

lot of pressure on you, but you can’t look at it like that.”

Florida State (22-9) is back in the tournament after a

seven-year NCAA run was snapped by last year’s 14-17 record – the

first losing season under Sue Semrau since 2001-02.

The biggest difference for the Seminoles is senior guard Leonor

Rodriguez of the Canary Islands. She averaged 3.9 points over the

first three years of what was shaping up to be a disappointing

career before breaking out for a team-best 15.1 points per game

this season.

Semrau said she knew this team could be different the minute she

realized Rodriguez was playing well enough to be a starter. In the

season’s second game, she scored 21 points in a 98-67 win over

Florida.

”You look at her history and … wonder what will her career,

what will she bring to the table?” said Semrau, now three years

removed from the school’s only trip to the regional finals.

”Certainly this is not anything we expected, and it’s something

that everyone is excited about. She’s the kind of kid that you just

want to see succeed.”

The Seminoles have three other players averaging in double

figures and for a time were the only team in the country with five

double-digit scorers. They are the only team nationally with four

1,000-point career scorers, led by guard Alexa Deluzio with

1,523.

Griner enters the tournament as the No. 2 scorer in Division I

history with 3,203 points. She’ll need to average 32 points a game

in another national championship season to catch career leader

Jackie Stiles of Missouri State.

Right now, Griner just wants to play. The Lady Bears have been

sitting around for almost two weeks since winning the Big 12

tournament by an average of 23 points over three games. Baylor

(32-1) has won 30 straight since an early loss to Stanford, also a

No. 1 seed in the NCAAs.

”It’s been two long weeks, and it’s time to play,” Griner

said. ”We’re definitely ready to get on the floor and just start

hooping.”

Prairie View (17-14) is making its third straight appearance as

a 16th seed and Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament

champion, this time after a four-overtime victory against

Mississippi Valley State. The Lady Panthers lost to Baylor 66-30 in

this same scenario two years ago, and were wiped out by Connecticut

in 2012.

Only two Prairie View players are back from 2011, but one of

them is Latia Williams, who averaged 15.7 points and 11.7 rebounds

in the SWAC tournament. The Lady Panthers beat one tournament

qualifier in Hampton and stayed close with another in Kansas.

”Hopefully the team that showed up and competed in those games

comes out and competes against Baylor,” said Toyelle Wilson, who

has reached the NCAA tournament in all three seasons as Prairie

View’s head coach.

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