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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Princeton reaching new heights

Maybe it's my other journalistic life covering Yale football and assorted other sports at the Ivy League school, but I am struck by the remarkable run of success enjoyed by the Princeton women's basketball program.

There was a time when the Ivy League champion could be penciled in to be seeded somewhere between 14th-16th and draw one of the Eastern powerhouse programs and then be shown the door after a first-round NCAA tournament exit.

That was until this current group of Princeton stars began to take the Ivy League by storm. Two years ago the Tigers were seeded 11th, the best for an Ivy school since the NCAA tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1994. Last year they were a 12 seed and on Selection Monday the Tigers drew a No. 9 seed and a first-round date with Kansas State on Saturday morning in Bridgeport.

In order to get some insight into what makes this Princeton team so special., I reached out to Yale coach Chris Gobrecht who offered glowing praise of the Ivy League champions for the last three years.

"They are relentless, they never let you come up for air," Gobrecht said. "You never get that point ‘OK, these guys are kind of cruising for a little bit, we’ll get a few things done right now.’ You never feel like that. You feel like they are always coming to get you both on defense and on offense. They are amazing on the boards. (Niveen) Rasheed could play for just about anybody in the country. That is a really good basketball player and you have somebody with that level of talent along with that she is just a ferocious player. She just looks like she is going to take your head off all the time. She kind of sets the tone for them and they don’t have any weaknesses. It is not like they can say ‘well we’ve got to stop this; we’ve got to stop that and then we will be OK.’ They have excellent shooting and they are very, very good on the boards because they all board and they are athletic enough, strong enough.

"They can shoot, they can rebound, they defend very well, there are no weaknesses there. They are good athletes, they have great team chemistry and they are on mission. This team, most of those kids have been together for three years, it is a real experienced team. You have two really seasoned veterans in Lauren Edwards and Devona Allgood who are seniors and this is their last goround. They are tenacious, they are athletic, they are smart, they understand the game and you can’t find any big weaknesses in their game."

Gobrecht was not surprised to see Princeton, which recently became the first Ivy women's team to break in the top 25 in the Associated Press poll, earn a No. 9 seed.
"I think first of all they deserve it," Gobrecht said. "We feel like we play good basketball in this league and part of that was the performance of the league in preconference (schedule). The Ivy League did pretty well out of conference play this year. Penn finished fifth and did extremely well in their non-conference schedule, Brown, Yale, Harvard all performed quite well through the non-conference schedule and that really helped the idea that here comes Princeton and they just dominate league. These weren’t slouch teams and I think that really helped Princeton get that level of credibility in that the league had performed well and yet Princeton had dominated the league. The combination of those two things was what catapulted them to a 9 and I think people recognizing that they are a veteran team.

"For this same group of kids, this is now their third NCAA tournament trip in a row, the same group. You weigh that in that they are ready to perform at a higher level than . I fully expect them to win on Saturday."

So is this Princeton team the best Ivy League team ever?
"I remember my first year in the league Dartmouth had a team that almost knocked off Rutgers in the first round, that was a very good team but I think this team is at a different level athletically, they are at a different level than that team was. They physically can matchup at a high level. I thought Dartmouth did what you often see an Ivy League team and that is play with a lot of intelligence, play within themselves, not hurt themselves, not make mistakes so they stay in a game. Princeton, those are good basketball players, they aren’t just smart kids who play the game well like we are often are labeled."

If Princeton beats Kansas State on Saturday, as Gobrecht thinks the Tigers will, a matchup with UConn figures to be awaiting on Monday night. So I asked Gobrecht how Princeton would match up with the Huskies.

"I am not going to tell you that they match up with UConn," Gobrecht said. "There is still another jump. I think Princeton can play pretty much anybody in the country but there is still another jump when you are talking about the UConns, the Stanfords, the Baylors. We played Baylor, we played Princeton and there is a difference. I wouldn’t say that I expect them to match up against UConn but I do expect them to beat Kansas State."

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