Women's Basketball: Cagers use strong schedule as preparation
Over the past several years, the women’s basketball team has created a culture of success in which winning the Ivy League title is no longer the end goal. The Tigers have aspirations of making a serious postseason run and earning their first NCAA tournament victory, and the only way to prepare for that is to play top competition.
So when head coach Courtney Banghart and the rest of the coaching staff start planning for the upcoming season, they spend a good deal of time and effort on forming the team’s schedule.
“Scheduling is one of the most important things we do,” Banghart said. “The 14 non-conference games are the ones we take real considerable care with. We don’t just use them as given wins; we schedule competitive opportunities, and we certainly have a lot of those on our schedule this fall.”
The Tigers have already faced one ranked opponent so far in No. 19 University of California, Los Angeles, and four of their remaining nine non-conference games are against teams who made appearances in last year’s NCAA tournament. Two of these teams, DePaul and Delaware, even advanced to the second round, as did Marist, which defeated Princeton on Nov. 17.
While this year’s schedule is loaded with tough opponents, Banghart notes that schedule strength varies from year to year based on the team’s goals.
“Every year your scheduling changes because it is dependent upon where your program is,” Banghart emphasized. “Our program right now is in a place where we are highly competitive in the region, so we want to play the best teams in the region, not the second-tiered best. It gives us a very difficult non-conference schedule because that is what our kids are prepared for.”
Getting the best teams to play against her team, however, has become increasingly difficult for Banghart over the years as the Tigers have built a strong reputation.
“Based on our team’s success, we have a very tough time finding people willing to play us. It’s a good problem to have, but it’s a trying problem as well.”
Tonight, the Tigers (3-2) will follow up their game against UCLA with another strong opponent when state rival Rutgers (3-1) makes a visit to Jadwin Gymnasium. The Scarlet Knights lead the all-time series 15-3, but the match-ups have been closer in recent years. This is notable given their national success under head coach C. Vivian Stringer in the past decade, whichincluded trips to the NCAA Final Four in 2000 and 2007.
In Banghart’s second season as head coach, Rutgers blew out the Tigers out by 48 points. But in the teams’ last meeting two years ago, it took a game-winning shot in the final four seconds for the Scarlet Knights to come out on top.
This year’s Rutgers team is just as strong as in years past, as the Scarlet Knights are equally talented in the frontcourt and backcourt. Their size and quickness at the guard position will create a challenge for the Princeton defense.
The Tigers will especially need to keep an eye on forward Monique Oliver, who is Rutgers’ leading scorer and rebounder.
The Tigers might be coming off a loss, but they seem to be hitting their stride, especially with senior guard Niveen Rasheed coming off of 19- and 17-point games over Thanksgiving break.
Freshman forward Alex Wheatley has also emerged as a key contributor in the last two games. Her recent success on the glass will help the Tigers keep the ball out of Oliver’s hands.
To Banghart, the game against Rutgers will serve as a “measuring stick” and help her gauge where the team is. Following tonight’s game, the Tigers will play two more home games before beginning a four-game road series.