Living the dream
Micir, Princeton women set for first NCAA appearance
PRINCETON, N.J. — Addie Micir grew up loving basketball. She watched high school hoops, followed the Philadelphia 76ers, and even attended a few Princeton games. On a half-court in an old barn of a building at her family’s home in Pennsylvania, Micir shot baskets and dreamed of playing in the NCAA Tournament.
After a season of dreams, hard work, and domination of the Ivy League, Micir, a junior guard, and her Princeton teammates are there. The 11th-seeded Tigers, undefeated in the league and 26-2 overall, received the first NCAA bid in team history and will face sixth seed St. John’s (24-6) today in the Dayton region, in Tallahassee, Fla.
“It’s been quite a ride so far,’’ said Micir.
Princeton was awarded the highest seed of any Ivy League women’s team ever, and could post what would be only the second win for the league in the tourney. And that could be just the beginning. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if they got to the second round and even to the Sweet 16,’’ said Yale coach Chris Gobrecht.
The Tigers play a stifling man-to-man defense and rank fifth in the nation in Division 1 with 52 points allowed per game and fourth with a 34.1 field goal percentage for opponents. They average 71.6 points and usually have four players in double figures, so nobody ever knows who’s going to have the hot hand.
“We can look pretty much to anyone to contribute on any day,’’ said 6-foot-3-inch sophomore center Devona Allgood, who averages 10.9 points and 7.9 rebounds. “Our work ethic is something that has really paid off.’’
The young Princeton team makes up in skill and hustle what it might lack in height and experience. The Tigers are led by 6-foot freshman forward Niveen Rasheed, the league’s rookie of the year, who averages 15.6 points and 8.8 rebounds and also leads the team with 80 assists and 63 steals.
Looking at St. John’s, Princeton coach Courtney Banghart sees a team similar to hers in some ways. She’s bracing for a fast, pressure team. “Guard oriented, very athletic,’’ Banghart said, describing the Red Storm. “The big area that we have to make sure we can control is the glass. We have to be able to rebound, both on the offensive end and defensive end.’’
With the exception of early-season losses to UCLA and Rutgers, both by 10 points, Princeton, which was left out of the major polls but collected more votes as the season went on, has been able to do almost whatever it’s wanted. The Tigers, winners of their eighth league championship at 14-0 and owners of the title outright for the first time since 1978, posted the best overall record in Ivy history and are riding a school-record 21-game winning streak.
All of their victories, except one, were by double digits. And there have been some blowouts. “It’s not like they’ve just been squeaking wins out here and there,’’ said Gobrecht, whose Bulldogs lost twice to the Tigers by 21 points. “They’ve been hammering everybody. And the Ivy League is probably the best it’s been in a long time.
“They play really good defense. But what impressed me when we played them was they are very gifted offensively, and they’re able to score on you even when you’re defending them, and that’s what sets them apart. And they’re so solid across the board that you just can’t keep track of everybody.’’
Most remarkable is the turnaround under third-year coach Banghart, a former player and assistant at Dartmouth whose Princeton team went from a dismal 7-23 overall and 4-10 in the league in 2007-08 to 14-14 and 9-5 last year, to excellence this season.
“My freshman year was rough,’’ said Micir. “We won seven games. The coach’s recruiting and the way she teaches us the game and coaches us, and our ability and will to work has helped us out a great deal, and our record this year shows that.’’
It’s been a struggle over the years for the Ivy League in the Division 1 women’s tournament. Dartmouth was the first Ivy team to play, losing to Monmouth College, 77-58, in 1983, the second year of the tournament. The league received an annual automatic bid starting in 1994, when the field was expanded to 64 teams.
In 1998, Harvard, seeded 16th in the West region, pulled off the biggest upset in tournament history for women and men when it beat top-seeded Stanford on the Cardinal’s home court, 71-67, before losing in the next round to Arkansas, which went on to the Final Four. That big win was the only NCAA Tournament victory for the Ivy women. Dartmouth has made seven appearances, Harvard six, Penn two, and Brown and Cornell one each. Princeton is the sixth Ivy team to appear in the tournament.
“They’re a very well-rounded team, very balanced offensively and defensively,’’ said Harvard junior guard Christine Matera. “It’s a tough team to cover. It’s going to be a competitive game, and it’s definitely good for the Ivy League that they got an 11 seed. I think Princeton’s put itself in a good position and will hopefully get a win and be a good representative for the Ivy League.’’
“Most of the time the Ivy champion, as the 16th seed, as the 15th seed, has competed really well,’’ said Kathy Delaney-Smith, Harvard’s coach for 28 seasons. “I think Princeton is going to be able to do that this year. I kind of wish someone would go past the first round. That’s what we’re hoping for.’’
“They do a lot of things well,’’ said Kim Barnes Arico, St. John’s eighth-year coach. “They have a great inside/outside game, their freshman is outstanding; she’s a big-time player. They have guards that really make shots. They’re a well-balanced team. They’ve done a great job on the defensive end as well.’’
The Red Storm, tied for fourth in a deep Big East Conference led by powerhouse Connecticut, was expected to finish 12th in the conference. “We exceeded expectations in a lot of areas,’’ Barnes Arico said. “We beat DePaul and Rutgers on the road and beat Notre Dame at home, so it was a tremendous year for us. We have a lot of young kids. Our roster is probably similar to theirs; they have a lot of young kids as well.’’
The Tigers consider fellow upstart St. John’s a formidable opponent. “They’re in the Big East and clearly that’s a great conference, and we know that they’re athletic and they like to rebound and run,’’ said Micir, who averages 12.6 points and leads the team in 3-pointers with 66. “It’ll be fun to see how we do.’’
St. John’s has played a competitive schedule that has left the Red Storm ready for anything. “Playing in the Big East night after night and taking a couple of stiff elbows to the chin, you really toughen up,’’ Banghart said.
Princeton would play the winner of the first-round game between Florida State and Louisiana Tech if it beats St. John’s.
“I’m going to pack a bag for two games, that’s for sure,’’ Banghart said.