Though the Princeton Tigers’ women’s basketball team is playing at a level never before seen in the history of the Ancient Eight, their opponent inside of Jadwin Gym on Saturday recently dealt it one of the program’s toughest defeats to stomach just 10 months prior.
Whatever lingering heartbreak that may have remained for the Tigers was wiped out in a stellar display that now has become a staple of Princeton basketball for the better part of the last five years.
Senior guard Blake Dietrick led three players scoring in double figures with 25 points as the Tigers got a share of revenge against the Penn Quakers, 83-54, to move its record to 17-0 on the season, only one of two undefeated teams in women’s college basketball. The last meeting between the Tigers and Quakers took place in last season’s winner-take-all regular-season finale, when Penn came away with an 80-64 road victory to break the tie atop the Ivy standings with Princeton, earning Penn the automatic NCAA Tournament bid. It also ended Princeton’s run of Ivy League championships at four.
Judging by the performance from the Tigers, it’ll take a lot for them not to finish the regular season without a blemish. Princeton’s average margin of victory before Saturday was 23.6, and the 29-point margin between them and Penn didn’t seem that close with the way the Tigers executed on both ends of the floor. Coming into the game as the nation’s best three-point shooting team, Princeton hit half of their 18 attempts from long range, with Dietrick, the lone senior in the starting lineup, hitting five of her six threes. One of those threes in the first half gave her 1,000 career points, the 22nd player in program history to achieve that milestone.
The players don’t shy away when talking about whether they are a dominant team right now, but know that it’s still only January.
“Yeah, definitely, we feel like we’re a dominant team, but we have a long way to go if we want to be competitive in March,” said Dietrick, who is one of a handful of players in the NCAA to average at least 15 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists per game. “I think we know that we have keep working hard for the next two months to be ready to play in the postseason.”
By postseason, she really means the NCAA Tournament, though Dietrick was hesitant to say those words, as if not to jinx the success the Tigers have already had so far. Princeton, with their commitment to teamwork and ball movement (22 assists of 33 made field goals on Saturday), would not only cause fits to teams in the Big Dance if they were to get there, but their style – along with their obvious name recognition with playing in an Ivy League school – would instantly make them a media sensation.
As a matter-of-fact, they may be a media sensation already.
“It’s great to have some of the national writers come out to watch us play,” added eighth year head coach Courtney Banghart, who also played in the Ivy League while an undergraduate at Dartmouth. “There’s some great basketball being played in our little corner of the world.”
With losses by Mississippi State and Texas this weekend, Princeton is joined by AP No. 1 South Carolina as the only two schools in Division 1 with an unblemished mark. The Tigers, now ranked No. 19 in the latest AP Poll out on Monday, have achieved the highest ranking any Ivy League team has ever attained in the history of the AP Women’s Top 25 poll.
“I think it’s awesome that an Ivy League team is showing we can compete on the national level,” added a confident Dietrick, “People are really starting to know that we can play with anybody, one through 25.”
Probably the biggest opponent the Tigers will face in the next three weeks is rust, as the team will not play another game until Jan. 30 because of the school’s winter break. That stretch might be the only time Princeton takes it easy on its Ancient Eight competition until the season concludes. By that time, the Tigers may be making their fifth appearance in the NCAA Tournament in the past six years..and causing more people to notice their play once they’re in it.
[Cover photo (Blake Dietrick) courtesy of GoPrincetonTigers.com]