Women's Basketball: Cagers continue to run Ivy table
The women’s basketball team returned from its finals hiatus to trounce two Ivy League opponents, Cornell and Columbia, by a combined 77 points. The Tigers (12-5 overall, 3-0 Ivy) opened their weekend on Friday night against the Big Red (10-8, 2-2) in Ithaca. Senior guard Niveen Rasheed led the team with 21 points off 9-12 field goal shooting while sophomore guard Blake Dietrick came off the bench to contribute a career-high 17 points on only 8 shots. For the game, the Tigers shot a blistering 59 percent from the field and held Cornell to 31 percent shooting. Princeton outscored Cornell 46-18 in the paint and 18-2 on fast break points and outrebounded the Big Red 42-26. The Tiger’s bench outscored Cornell’s 40-15, and Princeton never trailed during the game, cruising to a 77-46 victory.
Princeton next played Columbia (2-16, 0-4) on Saturday night and faced its first deficit in Ivy League play. The Tigers shrugged off being behind by two in the first minute of the game and outscored the Lions 38-21 in the remaining 19 minutes of the first half. Five double-digit scorers paced the Tigers, and 10 of Princeton’s 12 players scored in the game. While the Tigers shot only 43.6 percent from the field for the game, they were able to coast to a 46-point victory (87-41) by outrebounding the Columbia squad 56-20. Princeton had more offensive rebounds (28) than the Lions did on the offensive and defensive glass combined. The dominance on the boards allowed Princeton to attempt 37 more shots than Columbia. Princeton opened the second half on a 25-6 run and finished with 49 points in the second half, its second-highest point output in a half this season. Again, Princeton dominated the paint, outscoring Columbia 48-8, points off turnovers, trouncing the Lions 27-6, and second chance points, blanking their opponent 27-0.
This season Princeton has won its three Ivy League matchups by an average of 36 points. The Tigers will face Brown and Yale next weekend, hoping to extend their 27-game Ivy League win streak.
“We motivate each other. We enjoy coming down to the gym every day and pushing one another to get better,” starting junior forward Kristen Helmstetter said when asked how she and her team plan to stay motivated for the remainder of their Ivy league run. “It is difficult to find a team as close as we are — each player from starter to last off the bench genuinely wants the other to play well. Our team doesn’t stop cheering until the final buzzer.”
“We have good players who work hard and play together under great coaches. The success of the Princeton program starts with the coaches, and when players play together and have great chemistry on and off the court, success follows,” freshman forward Alex Wheatley added.
This past weekend’s games were the first in three weeks for the Tigers, who broke for reading period and finals. The Tigers were 13-4 at the break last season, when they won the Ivy League and lost to Kansas State by three points in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
“It feels great to get back out on the court,” Helmstetter said. “Three weeks of practice is a long time. Over the break we were lucky enough to get a good group of guys to come down and play us. I think their strength and speed was really beneficial for our team.”
The Tigers have their sights locked not only on another Ivy League championship and an NCAA tournament berth, but also on a win in the first round of the tournament. This is especially true for the four seniors on the team who have been to the tournament for the past three seasons and lost in the opening round all three times.
“One of our biggest team goals this season is to win Ivies and go to the tournament for a fourth consecutive year,” Helmstetter said. “When it comes to the tournament, our team wants to win the first round. We have a great group of seniors who have worked really hard and have turned this program around. We want it for them.”
With a victory in the NCAA tournament in mind, Princeton looks to get even better over the final stretch of the season. The Tigers first must turn their focus to next weekend’s road matchups against Brown and Yale. Although both opponents currently occupy the bottom half of the Ivy League standings, both finished last season in the top half.
“The team can always get better; we just have to keep working hard. We have a great group of five freshmen, and they are getting really good. Playing against each other every day is no easy task,” Helmstetter said. “Road games are never easy, and preparing for next weekend’s games against Yale and Brown is a combination of our coaches helping us to know what we might expect from them and our team coming down focused and ready to get better.”
While the goals this season for Princeton are quite lofty, the Tigers know that each Ivy League game is critical.
“We take it one game at a time,” Wheatley said. “Every game in the Ivy League is important, especially because we don’t have a tournament at the end, so each win (or loss) is critical in the overall quest to win the league.”
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