The Princeton women’s basketball team will look to extend its five-game win streak in a home game against Pittsburgh on Saturday.
The game will be the third in a series of four home games. The Tigers (7-1 overall) are enjoying a home-court high, having earned an 81-70 win over in-state opponent Monmouth and a 74-57 win over previously undefeated Michigan.
The Pittsburgh Panthers (6-3 overall) have had a lukewarm start to their season. In a 56-50 win over Holy Cross on Sunday, the team struggled offensively. Pittsburgh lost its seven-point first-quarter lead by the third quarter, only rallying to its six-point margin in the last ten minutes of the final quarter. However, the Panthers are on an upward trajectory as they find their rhythm with a young team. On Tuesday, Pittsburgh earned a convincing 74-57 victory over Mount St. Mary’s, with a season-high 52.5 percent in shooting.
Freshman forward Kalista Walters is the Pittsburgh team’s greatest asset. As the team’s highest scorer, she holds 59 percent in shooting overall and was the key player in the Panthers’ most recent win.
Indeed, Pittsburgh’s top five scorers thus far are underclassmen. As a team, the Panthers are only getting better, and perhaps their youth poses the greatest challenge to the Princeton team.
“Pitt is a young team, so they’re unpredictable. They’ve got really athletic dynamic pieces, and they’re looking for a signature win,” head coach Courtney Banghart said. “We expect to get their best.”
Pittsburgh’s dynamism means that the Tigers will have to be on their toes defensively.
“We expect that we’re going to have to be solid on the ball defensively,” Banghart said. “We’re going to have to really play together on defense and force them to have to play a 5-v-5 game. If we can do those things, I think we can be really good.”
Whereas youth is Pittsburgh’s strength, experience is on the Tigers’ side. Against Michigan on Sunday, seniors Annie Tarakchian, Amanda Berntsen, Michelle Miller and Alex Wheatley led the charge against the Wolverines, scoring a combined 55 of 74 points. Juniors Taylor Brown and Vanessa Smith also helped keep the Big Ten team in check, making significant contributions of their own.
Given the strength of the Princeton upperclassmen, expect to see underclassmen spend more time on the court as the Tigers continue to build their deep roster. Against Monmouth on Tuesday, sophomores Tia Weledji, Leslie Robinson and Kenya Holland left their own marks on the court, as did freshmen Caroline Davis, Claudia Reid, Sydney Jordan, Qalea Ismail and Gabrielle Rush. For Banghart, developing depth is key to a successful program, so expect to see the team testing different rotations in the upcoming games.
In addition to experience, the Princeton women’s basketball team will have the fans on its side. As the jam-packed game against Michigan showed, home-court enthusiasm is a major boon. Princeton will have to keep up this energy as it looks to visit challenging opponents, like Ohio State on Friday, Dec. 18.
Banghart said that the team should be experienced and competitive enough to sustain their energy away from home. “We could play on the moon, and we would bring that same level of effort," she said. "That’s what we strive for every day.”
The mood is optimistic as the Princeton women’s basketball team sets its sights high and looks to deepen its program. The Tigers will battle it out against the Pittsburgh Panthers this Saturday, December 12, in Jadwin Gym at 3 p.m. The first 500 fans will receive an Ugly Sweater Beanie. Princeton faculty and staff will get free admission for Faculty & Staff Appreciation Day. The game can also be viewed on the Ivy League Digital Network.