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Princeton women dominate VCU in round one, drop close second round matchup with Seton Hall

A lot happened in the last minute of Princeton’s second round WNIT game at Seton Hall. The game was tied three times, seven points were scored and three turnovers were committed. The last three seconds were even crazier. The Pirates (19-13 overall, 8-10 Big East) had taken a one point lead with 10 seconds left after converting an old-fashioned three point play. The Tigers (21-9, 11-3 Ivy League) had the chance to tie, but junior guard Alex Rodgers turned the ball over with three ticks of the clock remaining and the game should have been just about out of reach. Princeton, like any team in its position, fouled immediately. Alexis Brown missed the first free throw, giving the Tigers a chance to at least send it to overtime. Then she missed the second and Princeton rebounded and called timeout. Just as the Tigers were about to inbound, Seton Hall called a timeout of its own. March was certainly at its maddest. Princeton finally ran its play with 1.4 seconds left and junior guard Blake Dietrick got a decent look, but clanged it off the backboard and the Pirates won 75-74.

The game was the tightest Princeton has been involved in all season. There were not many scoring runs and neither team led by more than five points. The lead changed hands too many times to count. The game produced some funky statistics as well. The Tigers outshot the Pirates 54.3 percent to 44.8 percent and out-rebounded them by four as well. But Seton Hall managed to take a ridiculous 21 more shots than Princeton on account of a 19-11 offensive rebounding advantage and 28 turnovers committed by the Tigers, tied for their worst mark of the season. The Pirates also somehow managed to shoot worse from the free throw line than from three, 45.5 percent to 71.4 percent, and recorded six fewer defensive rebounds than offensive. They were led by guards Ka-Diedre Simmons and Tabatha Richardson-Smith who scored 23 and 19 points, respectively. Both had three steals, while Simmons tallied five assists and Richardson-Smith grabbed six rebounds.

Sophomore forward Michelle Miller had a career night with a whopping 34 points on 11-for-13 shooting. She hit eight of her nine attempted threes, the second-highest single game total in Princeton history. Sophomore forward Alex Wheatley put up 15 points on seven-of-11 shooting and grabbed five rebounds, but also committed the foul with 10 seconds left that proved to be the difference. Her classmate and frontcourt mate Annie Tarakchian had another impressive night in her second career start. She pulled down a career-high 12 boards and managed 12 points on just five field goal attempts.

In the first round on Thursday night, fans caught a glimpse of what next season might look like, as Princeton crushed VCU 94-76 at Jadwin Gymnasium. The Tigers were without senior forward and captain Kristen Helmstetter, but the underclassmen filled in beautifully, as the program earned its second ever postseason victory with a convincing win over the Rams (22-10, 9-7 Atlantic 10). Princeton, whose offense has struggled in recent losses to Penn and Brown, redeemed itself by shooting 54 percent from inside the arch, 43.5 percent from three and 88.9 percent from the charity stripe.

The Tigers seemed poised to break away early, twice holding a seven point advantage, but VCU’s star forward, Robyn Parks, dropped 19 points in the first half and helped the Rams tie it 36-36 at the break. But Princeton held Parks to six in the second half and opened up a 50-40 lead barely four minutes into the period. From there it was never within five, and the Tigers closed out the game on a 10-0 run.

Tarakchian got the nod from head coach Courtney Banghart for her first career start and she turned in a brilliant performance. She recorded career highs with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Wheatley was equally impressive with a career high 22 points and 10 rebounds, marking the first time on the season Princeton has had two players record double-doubles. Remarkably, Dietrick and Miller nearly gave the Tigers four double-doubles, as they both recorded 18 points and eight assists and rebounds, respectively. The quartet of aforementioned players provided nearly 80 percent of Princeton’s points, the most concentrated performance of the season. The Tigers turned in a dominating rebounding performance. Their 48 rebounds were their second highest total of 2014. The team dynamic did not lack either, as their 20 assists were the third best performance of the calendar year.

So while the season ended with the disappointment of losing the Ivy League title, the future holds great promise for this young squad. Six of the top eight scorers are underclassmen. Five are sophomores with enough experience under their belt to lead, but enough room for improvement to make some significant leaps in ability. With only two seniors graduating, the Tigers will retain much of their scoring next year. The 2014-2015 Princeton team will be the favorite to win its fifth title in six years as Penn and Harvard both graduate their leading scorers among other key players.

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