The NCAA selection committee showed Princeton some love on Monday by awarding the women’s basketball team an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Princeton is now the first in the Ivy League to receive an at-large bid to the tournament since the conference received automatic qualifier status.
Princeton (23-5 overall, 12-2 Ivy League) attempted to earn an automatic bid last Tuesday but came up short in a heartbreaking loss to Penn. The Quakers won the de facto Ivy League Championship in a 62-60 decision, despite a burst of momentum from the Tigers late in the game. Throughout the game, the home team struggled to get in the way of Penn’s shot-making.
“We knew we were going to have to do a better job on the offensive end than we did the first time around [against Penn]. We did a little better offensively, but unfortunately we weren’t as good defensively as we were the first time around,” head coach Courtney Banghart said. “We took from it that we got outplayed, and we hope that doesn’t happen again.”
Following the loss, the mood on the team was understandably one of dejection, especially considering that there was little chance of getting a bid onto the NCAA bracket.
“We were definitely all heartbroken,” senior guard Michelle Miller said. “Obviously we’re going to look back and remember all the positive things we’ve accomplished throughout our careers, but at that moment it was pretty depressing.”
“What I told them is that it’s an opportunity that they’ll regret they didn’t take full advantage of,” Banghart said. “But at the same time, that particular senior class made our team, our program in terms of all they’ve done. I just wanted them to understand that their legacy was far more than just one game.”
For Princeton fans, the game against Penn felt like the last game of the season because no one expected the women’s basketball team to get a nod from the selection committee.
“I honestly thought we had no chance at all because it has never happened before,” Miller said. “Ever,” she added.
On Monday, the team’s mood experienced a major shift from dejection to elatedness. Perhaps it was the Tigers’ impressive regular season that convinced the selection committee to give them a chance in the biggest postseason event of the NCAA. Outside of two heart-breakers against Penn, Princeton beat its Ivy League opponents by an average of 22.7 points.
“This is a team that made history,” said a proud Banghart. “No one ever thought you could get a single seed in the NCAA Tournament. We did. No one ever thought you could go undefeated. We did. No one ever thought we’d get at-large, and we did.”
For the Orange and Black, the excitement came from getting another shot at making history.
Princeton, the No. 11 seed, will face No. 6 seed West Virginia University in Columbus, Ohio on Friday at noon. The two have never faced each other, but Princeton should expect a formidable opponent. The Mountaineers finished third in the Big 12 Conference and are 24-9 overall.
“We’re definitely focusing on having each others' backs on defense,” Miller said about the team’s game plan on Friday.
“We’re going to have to defend as a unit,” Coach Banghart said. “They’re much better 1-v-1 than we are.”
“On offense, we’re going to have to understand how to neutralize their pressure and play together,” she continued. “It’s a pretty straightforward game plan, and it’s a matter of execution. I think our experienced guys are ready for the challenge.”
This Friday, the women’s basketball team will attempt to make Ivy League history again. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3 live on Friday at noon.