Murphy’s law states that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Someone ought to tell that to the women’s basketball team, as a perfect series of events unfolded which boosted them into sole possession of first place in the Ivy League. A weekend sweep of Dartmouth and Harvard, coupled with Penn’s win in Cambridge and loss to the Big Green, moved Princeton (17-6 overall, 8-1 Ivy League) past the Quakers (17-6, 7-2) and the Crimson (17-7, 7-3) in the standings.
First up was the Friday night game in Hanover against the Big Green (4-20, 1-9), who were winless in conference play at the time. Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart, a Dartmouth alum and New Hampshire native, had quite the posse in attendance. She said beforehand it does not feel strange beating her alma mater. It showed, as the Tigers absolutely destroyed the Big Green 87-46. After a slow first few minutes, Princeton quickly opened up a double-digit advantage and never looked back. The Tigers were up 39-21 at the half, having out-rebounded Dartmouth 24-8 including just one offensive board. The offense found its rhythm in the second half after starting out shaky, and the lead quickly grew to 30.
“It’s a great start to the weekend for us,” Banghart said. “We’ve been playing well. Our defensive intensity has improved along with our teamwork on offense. We got a little bit from everybody tonight.”
Sophomore guard/forward Annie Tarakchian scored a then career-high 14 points and added a game-high seven rebounds. Junior guard Blake Dietrick, senior guard and captain Kristen Helmstetter and sophomore forward Taylor Williams all reached double digits in the blowout. The team shot a spectacular 60.4 percent from the field, while holding the Big Green to just 38.3 percent and one for nine from three. The Tigers were clearly the more athletic team as they pulled down 19 more rebounds than their opponent and scored three times as many points in the paint.
The Crimson provided a much tougher battle the next night in Cambridge. The teams traded scoring streaks the entire first half, with Harvard taking a nine-point advantage 15 minutes in. Helmstetter’s two key triples helped bridge the gap and send the Tigers into the locker room down 31-28. Neither team could manage better than 37 percent shooting, and the 11 Princeton turnovers made the difference. The staunch defense continued in the second half, although it was perhaps too tight as the teams took a combined 27 free throws. The lead never reached more than six points for either team and the score was tied at 61 with three minutes to play. Sophomore Michelle Miller then proceeded to put the team on her back and score six of Princeton’s last eight points, as they held Harvard to one-of-seven shooting down the stretch.
“It was a pretty inexperienced team for us versus an experienced team for them. They beat us at home, so we had to return the favor,” Banghart said. “This team is tough to be at home. Harvard’s star Christine Clark averages twice as many points here as she does on the road and we had lost three of the last four here before tonight.”
Despite taking 13 more shots on account of its 20 offensive rebounds, Harvard was unable to overcome Princeton. The Tigers didn’t exactly shoot well either, ending the game barely over 40 percent, but a 14-15 performance from the line and 35.8 percent shooting from the Crimson sealed the deal.
Helmstetter led the Tigers with 17 points and six rebounds, while Tarakchian matched Dietrick’s performance last weekend with her own consecutive career highs.
“We had a pretty direct conversation in practice in front of everybody. I wanted to see her emerge as more of an offensive threat,” Banghart said about Tarakchian. “She’s finally starting to realize she’s as good as I’ve thought all along. It could not be for a better kid, so we’re thrilled.”
Williams, starting her fourth straight game, provided her third straight double-digit scoring night while contributing five rebounds and three blocks. Princeton’s depth was on full display as leading scorer Dietrick made just one shot on 13 attempts, a career-worst shooting night for one of the nation’s best from behind the arc. Harvard’s Christine Clark had an outstanding night with 23 points, nine boards and three assists.
Seated firmly in the driver’s seat, Princeton will face the fourth through seventh place teams over the next couple weeks, before a deciding showdown against Penn at Jadwin Gymnasium on March 11.