Princeton women’s basketball goes on the road next week, playing Ohio State on Dec. 18 and Dayton on Dec. 20 in what head coach Courtney Banghart views as one of the hardest road trips of her career. Ohio State is expected to place in the top 10 teams nationally this year and Dayton, currently ranked first in mid-major rankings, fought its way to the Elite Eight in last year’s NCAA Tournament.
For Michelle Miller ’16 and Amanda Berntsen ’16, who with two other seniors and a junior form the team’s seasoned starting squad, the road trip offers a welcome challenge.
“I’m looking forward to it a lot. Any time we go play at a big BCS school it’s a lot of fun because we don’t get a ton of those games,” Miller said, noting her excitement to play against Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell, a sophomore currently ranked as the fourth scorer in all of women’s college basketball.
“This is probably the toughest part of a very hard schedule we have this year,” Berntsen said, “but there’s nothing better than good competition and playing teams that will make us better.” Playing such tough opponents will reflect favorably on the team’s Rating Percentage Index, Berntsen said, something that in combination with the team’s record (8-1 heading into tonight’s home game against Fordham) will be important for the Tigers’ seeding if they return to the NCAA Tournament in March.
Berntsen has had a particularly strong start to her season as she has assumed the point guard role after the graduation of Blake Dietrick ’15, last year’s unanimous Ivy League Player of the Year. Berntsen is averaging 10.4 points, on .623 shooting, and 3.6 assists per game. In Saturday’s win over Pittsburgh (a challenging opponent that made its way to the NCAA Tournament last year), she netted 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting.
“She’s always very tough [and] always plays great defense, which is something we’ve just come to expect from her,” Miller said. Banghart added that Berntsen “is a coach’s dream in terms of how competitive and relentless and tough she is.”
While Berntsen has developed her offensive game, Miller has been perfecting hers, averaging 13.8 points per game so far this season. Banghart views Miller as “probably one of the most elite scorers” she has ever coached, and Berntsen happily views “a pass to [Miller] as almost a guaranteed assist.”
Banghart is focused on refining the team’s bench rotation over the next few weeks, while the players remain focused on their strong defensive play, a signature of Banghart’s coaching style, and ultimately topping last year’s NCAA Tournament performance.
“Coming on our official visit during our senior year of high school, Coach Banghart brought us into her office and said that our goal as a class was to reach the Sweet 16 together,” Berntsen said. “After last year’s success and making it to the second round, it has really motivated us to reach beyond that this year. So first and foremost, we want to win the Ivy League, and then [the goal is] making it to the Sweet 16.”