Maybe it was nerves. Maybe it was attitude — Princeton, in the words of head coach Courtney Banghart, approached the game with humility instead of “the swag that champions have.” Whatever the reason, when the women’s basketball team needed to play its best in a winner-take-all Ivy League finale against Penn March 11, its performance fell short.
The normally crisp Tigers looked clumsy, turning the ball over 12 times in the first half, and Penn capitalized, taking a 13-point lead. Princeton’s offense rebounded in the second half, but each time the Tigers inched closer, the Quakers replied with a basket or two. Penn won comfortably, 80–64, earning the Ivy title and the league’s NCAA Tournament bid. Princeton (20–8) settled for a trip to the Women’s NIT.
The disappointment was obvious as the Tigers left the court to applause from the largest student cheering section they’d seen this year. Even the fast-talking, relentlessly upbeat Banghart was subdued. But the coach who built Princeton into a four-time Ivy champion found a silver lining in the loss.
“This was a really great environment for women’s basketball in the Ivy League, so we celebrate that,” she said. “We want good teams in our league.”
From 2010 through 2013, Princeton had seen few challengers, winning all but two of its Ivy games and outscoring opponents by more than 25 points per game. This year, three teams emerged as contenders: Penn, featuring All-Ivy guard Alyssa Baron and 6-foot-3-inch freshman center Sydney Stipanovich; Harvard, led by the strongest senior class in the league; and Princeton, which added four new faces to the starting lineup but still had enough firepower to be voted the preseason favorite.
The Tigers backed up those high expectations: Blake Dietrick ’15 developed into a prolific scorer, Kristen Helmstetter ’14 provided steady leadership, and the team’s bench supplied two Ivy Player of the Week honorees.
While the league’s second-tier teams had their moments — Dartmouth upset Penn, Princeton dropped a game at Brown — the six games among the top three decided the title. Penn beat Harvard twice and split its two games against Princeton.
“I think Penn’s here to stay,” Banghart said. “I certainly hope Princeton’s here to stay.”
This could be the beginning of a beautiful rivalry.