Women's Basketball: Tigers get 1st win over Rutgers since 1978
The women’s basketball team led another strong performance at Jadwin Gymnasium on Thursday night, beating Rutgers for the first time since Jan. 5, 1978, in a 71-55 blowout. The Tigers outpaced the Scarlet Knights from the onset of the game, leading by 16 points at the end of the first half and never letting go of the lead.
Junior forward Kristen Helmstetter got her first start of the year, taking the place of injured junior guard Nicole Hung, and finished with 14 points and six rebounds. Freshman forward Alex Wheatley, who has already proven herself to be a regular contributor to the Tigers, led the team in scoring with 17 points.
The Tigers' win avenged a 54-53 defeat on the road in the two teams' last meeting at Rutgers in 2010, when the Scarlet Knights won on a last-minute shot, extending their win streak to 12 straight against Princeton. But this time, a victory for the home side was hardly ever in doubt.
Strong performances such as these from Wheatley and Helmstetter may become necessary as Princeton continue to define its identity in the non-conference part of its schedule. Thanks to the efforts of several Tigers, the hosts collected 43 rebounds to Rutgers' 26.
“Coach [Courtney Banghart] told us to keep them off the boards, which means that we had to out-rebound them and go hard to the basket,” Wheatley said.
For Helmstetter and senior forward Kate Miller, the game had some added significance. The New Jersey natives grew up around the rivalry and played against many Rutgers players during their high school careers.
“We’ve gone from losing by 48 [in 2008] to now winning by more than 10," Helmstetter said. "It’s a really good win for us and points us in the right direction for future games."
The rivalry atmosphere, with the team raising its 2011-12 Ivy League championship banner as well as its 2012 NCAA tournament banner, was also thrilling for Wheatley. “It’s a great rivalry, and to have it in our own gym with our own fans was awesome," she said.
Coming off of a split in their two-game Thanksgiving road trip to Southern California, the Tigers established their defense early on against a Scarlet Knights team known for running an effective offense. Essential to this effort was senior point guard Lauren Polansky, who notched a team-leading nine defensive rebounds and added seven assists and three steals. The two-time Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year played nearly the entire game, logging 38 minutes on the night against Rutgers' heavy full-court press.
“They have great pressure, great trapping, and LP did an amazing job staying calm and poised," Helmstetter said. "She kept us together as a whole when we needed it."
Rounding out the Tigers’ performance was another solid performance from senior forward Niveen Rasheed, with 15 points on 12 shots and seven rebounds. The attention drawn by Rasheed helps give the rest of the Tigers opportunities, which will continue to be critical going forward.
As a team, Princeton shot 46 percent from the field and four for nine from beyond the arc.
The Tigers will play their next two games at home as a part of their annual Holiday Hoops Food Drive. On Sunday, they will face the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, followed by a Wednesday date with Hofstra. Looming on the horizon is an away game against emerging power Delaware on Dec. 9.