Rasheed's Princeton Tigers are roaring on the hardwood
LOIS ELFMAN Special to the AmNews | 1/20/2012, 12:06 p.m.
Princeton women's basketball coach Courtney Banghart may be modest about her team's strengths, but look no further than Sunday's 94-35 dismantling of Columbia to see how capable the Tigers are of dominating other Ivy League teams.
"We're not where we want to be quite yet and that's exciting to us," said Banghart, now in her fifth season at the helm at Princeton. "Our veteran players are so hungry. They're committed to winning and committed to improving every day. The rookies are a talented group. They're getting anxious to contribute more."
Probably the hungriest Tiger is junior forward Niveen Rasheed, who missed conference play last year after suffering a torn ACL. While the team was still able to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the second year, she was missed. Having her back on the court makes the team that much stronger.
"Basketball is in her blood, and it is her heart and soul," said Banghart, who praised Rasheed's diligence in rehabbing her injury. "She's very impactful on both ends of the floor."
Following the win over Columbia, Princeton (13-4) started a nearly three-week break from games while the students have finals. Other schools had their finals before Christmas break.
"I have to be creative with scheduling practice times and what we expect them to do when they're eating Twizzlers 24 hours a day to get through their exam period," said Banghart.
At Columbia, there is no rest for the weary. Sporting a 2-13 record, the Lions are in action again on Saturday at home vs. Cornell. On the upside, the Ivy League berth in the NCAA Tournament is determined by win-loss record in conference play, so Columbia is 0-1 with 13 more chances to prove themselves.
"Our young women work hard all the time, but I think that they recognize that the work that we put in is really to develop everything for the 14-game Ivy season," said Columbia coach Paul Nixon, now in his seventh season.
On the upside, three freshmen have garnered Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors: Caitlyn Unsworth, Amara Mbionwu and Miwa Tachibana. Mbionwu has been starting in the post but is still finding her footing. Nixon praised her rebounding. He noted the team as a whole needs to work on shot selection to get more wins.