Niveen Rasheed '13 ended her remarkable Princeton career with an NCAA Tournament loss to Florida State. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

When Lauren Polansky ’13 and Niveen Rasheed ’13 took a recruiting visit to Princeton together in 2008, the women’s basketball team was coming off of a 7-23 season. As the two high school seniors and AAU teammates pondered their college decisions later that fall, the Tigers were destroyed by in-state rival Rutgers 83-35. With both players having other attractive offers, their friends started asking questions: Are you sure you want to go there?

Polansky and Rasheed decided they did, changing the course of Princeton’s program for good. Along with Kate Miller ’13 and Megan Bowen ’13, they formed the core of the most successful Ivy League class ever: Four outright titles, the four best NCAA tournament seeds in league history, 96 wins against 20 losses, and a 54-2 record in conference play.

Those seniors were probably not thinking about all that with 54 seconds left in Sunday’s first-round NCAA tournament game, when Rasheed, Polansky, Miller, and Bowen were subbed out for the final time in their illustrious careers. Instead of reflecting on how they transformed a team that had never reached the tournament into one that expects to be there annually, they watched as time ran out on another chance to take the next step, as Princeton fell to No. 8-seed Florida State in Waco, Texas, 60-44.

Only one Ivy League team has ever won a game in the Big Dance; the Tigers came closest to being number two last year, when they fell to No. 8-seed Kansas State 67-64. But although Princeton drew another single-digit seed this season, Sunday’s game more closely resembled their first trip to the tournament — just as against St. John’s in 2010 (a game that, coincidentally, was held in Florida State’s Tucker Center), the Tigers simply struggled to make shots, making a season-low 25 percent of their attempts from the floor and going 4-for-10 from the free-throw line.

Princeton has been one of the nation’s most relentless rebounding teams for each of the last two seasons, and it lived up to that standard in the tournament, collecting 25 of its own misses while holding the Seminoles to just six offensive rebounds. Thanks to those second (and often third, fourth, and fifth) chances, the Tigers attempted 15 more shots than Florida State, even while committing 19 turnovers, many of them careless. But despite the extra attempts and a similar number of free throws, Princeton was outscored by 16 points, as the Seminoles shot 48 percent for the game.

Defensively, the Tigers showed several different gambits, but most of them kept defenders near the basket while giving Florida State space for mid-range shots — and the Seminoles largely obliged, making 13 two-point jumpers. Still, the Tigers’ defensive performance was good enough to win many games, as they held the nation’s seventh-highest scoring offense to just 60 points on 66 possessions. 

Princeton trailed by double digits within 10 minutes of the opening tip, but midway through the second half, the Tigers finally made their push. Four consecutive Florida State turnovers turned into a 10-0 Princeton rally, as Blake Dietrick ’15 took advantage of an overcommitting defense to drop back-to-back three-pointers, the latter of which brought Princeton within 38-37. Getting back in the game is only half the battle, though, and the Seminoles quickly won the other half. By the time Leonor Rodriguez stole the ball from Miller, made a layup and drew a foul, capping a 16-2 run with five minutes left, the game was effectively over.

Head coach Courtney Banghart, now winless in eight tournament appearances as a player and coach representing the Ivy League, is likely to be back sooner rather than later. Four underclassmen came off the bench to play at least 13 minutes on Sunday; they, along with starting forward Kristen Helmstetter ’14 and injured guard Nicole Hung ’14, will form the core of what should again be one of the Ivy favorites in 2014.

But for the Class of 2013, there is no next year, and there are no more chances for an elusive tournament victory. In the days leading up to Sunday’s game, Banghart said she wanted her seniors to keep some perspective regardless of the outcome, to not let their last game overshadow the previous 28 (or 115). After the four veterans shot a combined 6-for-28 in defeat, Banghart repeated that attitude in the postgame press conference.

“The important thing I want to leave is, good or bad, you don’t define yourself by one day,” she said. “I think the way in which the senior class has treated every day is why they’re back for the fourth straight year. This is a memory that will be with us forever. It won’t be our favorite, but it will be a reminder of doing every day right for four years in a row.”

Quick takes

FENCING took home its first NCAA championship in the modern era, as the combined men’s and women’s team edged Notre Dame 182-175 for first place in the four-day meet. Princeton was in second place behind Penn State after the men’s competition, but the women dominated Saturday and Sunday’s round-robin bouts to pull away. All six female Tigers won more than half of their bouts and earned All-America honors.

Eliza Stone ’13 added another NCAA title for Princeton — the school’s fourth this year, along with field hockey and the men’s distance medley relay — with an individual championship in saber. Jonathan Yergler ’13 returned to the men’s epee finals for a third straight year and finished second, as did epeeist Susannah Scanlan ’14, who fell to 2012 Olympic teammate Courtney Hurley in the finals.

In their last two regular-season meetings, MEN’S LACROSSE and Yale played a total of six overtimes, including five in last year’s 10-9 win in New Haven, the longest game in program history. This year, 60 minutes was enough, as the Tigers held off a late Yale rally to win by the same 10-9 score at home. Despite graduating one of the most talented classes in program history last summer, No. 10 Princeton has hardly missed a beat, thanks largely to the nation’s third-most efficient offense.

WOMEN’S LACROSSE stopped a two-game slide with a 10-7 victory over No. 12 Johns Hopkins at Class of 1952 Stadium on Saturday. The Tigers outscored Hopkins 7-3 in the second period, thanks in large part to a 9-2 advantage in draw controls after halftime.

Lisa Boyce ’14 of WOMEN’S SWIMMING earned Honorable Mention All-America honors in the 100-yard freestyle at NCAA Championships, setting the Ivy League record in Saturday’s prelims and finishing 13th at night. Boyce, making her second trip to NCAAs, also qualified in the 50 free and 100 back.

After moving into a tie for second place in the EIVA last weekend, MEN’S VOLLEYBALL prepares for the biggest week of its season. A home victory over fifth-place St. Francis on Thursday would help the Tigers solidify a place in the four-team playoffs, but the marquee matchup is Friday, when Princeton hosts 14-time defending league champion Penn State.

Kevin Whitaker ’13 is an economics major and former Daily Princetonian sports editor.