This season for women's basketball has been a search for completeness. Earlier in the year, Princeton struggled to play a complete half without collapse, then a complete game. Now 1-4 in Ivy play, the Tigers (4-15 overall, 1-4 Ivy League) must learn to play for an entire weekend if they are to climb up the conference ladder.
This past weekend, Princeton managed a split in two league home games, defeating Brown, 55-52, in overtime Friday night, while falling to Yale, 67-58, Saturday.
"[Against Brown] we got back to playing our game," head coach Liz Feeley said. "We were more patient offensively, [and] defensively, I thought we did a really nice job."
In the first half against the Bears, the vaunted Tiger offense moved the ball well and produced several open three-point attempts. While Princeton and Brown (5-15, 0-6) each converted ten field goals in the first half, seven of the Tigers' baskets were of the three-point variety — compared to only one for Brown. Because of this success from outside, Princeton had a five-point lead at intermission.
Even more impressive than the team's shooting in the first half was the performance of sophomore guard Hillary Reser, whose emotional play carried the team throughout the game. Moments after entering the game in the first half, Reser drained a three-pointer to give the Tigers the lead.
With just over eight minutes remaining in the second half, after drawing an offensive foul, Reser slapped the floor with both hands and let out a roar of enthusiasm. At this point, it was evident that she would not let her team lose.
"I think one of the keys in the second half was Hillary Reser," Feeley said. "She was a monster on the boards at five-feet, seven-and-a-half [inches]. That was key. That was an inspiration."
On an important Tiger possession with two minutes, 43 seconds left, Reser dived for a loose ball with the shot clock winding down and smartly called a timeout. Then with just over a minute remaining, the sophomore grabbed a defensive rebound in heavy traffic and was fouled. She swished both free throws to tie the game, 48-48.
While Reser's play ensured that Princeton would not lose, senior guard and captain Maggie Langlas won the game for the Tigers. With 26 seconds left, Langlas sent the game into overtime with two clutch free throws. In the extra frame, after more than two minutes of turnovers from both sides, Langlas hit a three from the right wing off a feed from senior center Brooke Lockwood. Langlas later added two insurance free throws in the waning moments to account for all of Princeton's scoring in the final six minutes of the game.
"I'm really proud of the way everyone played tonight," Langlas said. "It feels so good to win."
While the Tigers shut out the Bears' second-leading scorer, Rachael MacDonald, Princeton struggled to contain Yale's lone long-distance threat — Maria Smear — the following night. The freshman guard scored a career-high 23 points at the Tigers' expense.
The Elis and Tigers were evenly matched for the first 25 minutes, but a 16-2 run by Yale — led by Smear's ten points in that span — proved to be too much for Princeton to overcome.
"[In the Yale] game, it felt like we were in control for most of it," Lockwood said. "We just made some poor defensive decisions. We knew [Smear] was a three-point shooter, and we let her get off too many shots, and we should have been out there earlier."
The Tigers were handicapped from the beginning of the Yale game because of an injury that senior captain and forward Kate Thirolf sustained at the end of the first half Friday night.
"Not having Kate Thirolf was big. She's very key for us, no question about it," Feeley said.
Despite Thirolf's absence, the Tigers took an early lead against Yale. The Elis (7-12, 3-3) fought back, however, and shortly after Smear entered the game built an eight-point lead of their own.
Lockwood led the Tigers in the first half, scoring six points, while handing out two assists and swiping two steals, before picking up her third foul. Freshman forward Lee Culp also provided a spark for the Tigers, including a jump shot at the first-half buzzer that pulled Princeton within one at the break.
While Princeton did emerge from the weekend with its first Ivy League victory, the loss to Yale essentially eliminated the Tigers from any shot at the Ivy title. But weekend by weekend, the Tigers must continue to play out their season — and strive to put two complete games together.