The Ivy League women's basketball season starts with an eight-way tie for first place. Each team has the same record and must play the same 14-game schedule.
This year, many observers expected Princeton to break the tie in the early going and rise to the top of the conference standings. Coming off a strong season last year — the Tigers were Ivy League co-champions with Dartmouth — the great expectations were not irrational. Princeton returned two players who were first or second team all-Ivy last year: forward Kate Thirolf and guard Maggie Langlas — both currently senior captains.
Behind this duo, the Tigers were supposed to challenge Penn and Harvard for the Ivy crown. Poor play on defense has instead forced Princeton into a battle with Brown to stay out of last place in the league.
"I'm disappointed with how [the season] has gone so far," Thirolf said. "Our record is not exactly what I had hoped that it would be."
"Defense has been our biggest pitfall," head coach Liz Feeley said.
The 1998-99 Tiger squad finished second in the country in points allowed per game. In league play, the eventual Ivy co-champs gave up an average of 52.4 points per game.
At the midway point of the 1999-2000 Ivy season, the team is giving up 69.9 points per game in league competition.
"Our defense was something that we really prided ourselves on last year," Thirolf said. "The year before we were number one in the country in scoring defense."
Some of Princeton's defensive problems are due to a lack of communication, something that Langlas cited as the team's biggest problem at this point in the season.
On several occasions in recent weeks, the Tigers have seemed disorganized at both ends of floor. At times, it appears that some of the players do not know where they are supposed to be on the court. At other times, all five players are aware of their assignments, but do not follow through on them.
Nowhere was this more apparent than against Yale on Feb. 5.
The Elis' leading scorer entering the game was freshman guard Maria Smear — a lethal outside shooter who was averaging 10.4 points per game at the time. The Tigers knew that to beat Yale, they had to contain Smear.
Smear lit up the Tigers for a career-high 23 points, on 6 of 8 shooting from three-point land. She was the difference in Yale's nine-point win.
Graduation and attrition have hurt the Tigers to a certain extent. Only eight players remain from the 1998-99 squad, even though that team featured only two seniors.
This shortage of experience has forced Princeton to play its underclassmen. Despite their greenness, these young Tigers have performed admirably.
Freshman guard Allison Cahill has seen time in every game this season, and has led the team in three-point field goal percentage, shooting a torrid 40.3 percent from behind the arc. Sophomore guard Lauren Rigney has started every game for Princeton and has shown an uncanny ability to defend the low post.
"[From here] we're looking at this as a seven-game season," Feeley said.
For the Tigers to be successful in the remaining games, they must improve upon the mistakes of the past 21.
"You have to keep your mind on the games ahead," Thirolf said. "[But] right now we need to work on our defense."
If not, the Tigers will continue to sink faster than a Maria Smear three-pointer.