Princeton women are back after 3-week exam break

Updated: February 2, 2012, 12:47 PM ET
Associated Press

While most coaches across the country have been spending the past three weeks prepping for conference games, Princeton women's basketball coach Courtney Banghart has had to find other ways to occupy her time.

That's because her Tigers have been on a hiatus since Jan. 15 for exams. They are one of the few schools to have their tests after Christmas break and the Ivy League has a policy that no one can play athletic contests during the exam period.

So for the past five years in the middle of January, Banghart has had to figure out ways to keep her team sharp during the extended break.

"It is a little insane," Banghart said laughing. "When I first took over the job I was like what in the world is this. Now we use it as a minicamp. We have two separate seasons."

The Tigers have been using the time off to work on the little things to improve.

"We bring refs in and we've simulated games, but you can only simulate it so much," she said. "It's not another girl in another uniform. We've been playing against boys and I've been blessed these kids want to be really good."

Princeton was pretty good in its "first" season, winning 13 of the 17 games. Three of the losses came to ranked opponents (Delaware, DePaul and Stanford), leaving the Tigers still looking for their first victory over a Top 25 team.

"I think our preseason set us up well for the rest of the season," Princeton leading scorer Niveen Rasheed said. "It gives us confidence we can play against the best teams in the nation."

Fourth-ranked Stanford has its own two-week break for exams in early December. The Cardinal's first game back was against Princeton, who they beat 85-66.

"We used to play games during the dead week before exams and we would be exhausted, so right now two weeks off works better for us," said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, who noted that having three weeks off would be really hard.

"They have an excellent team and are very talented. I was very impressed with how hard they played and how well coached they are."

The Tigers (13-4, 3-0 Ivy) have run through the Ivy League in their first three games, winning by an average of 41 points. They beat Columbia by 58 points in their last game before break.

Princeton will finally get back in action on Friday, hosting Brown then playing Yale the next day.

"We're anxious for this weekend to play against an opponent other than ourselves," senior Lauren Edwards said. "There are a lot of things we want to execute. I think for us it was a good little break to have. It was a time for us to work on our weaknesses. Practice is a nice break from the library."

The Tigers are trying to be the first team in Ivy history to win three straight outright titles since the league started playing back-to-back games in 1982.

"It's a huge goal for us," Edwards said. "It's a long season where every game is a playoff game, any team could knock you off any night."

The Ivy League is the lone conference that doesn't have a postseason tournament. The regular season champion earns the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

If they can win an unprecedented third consecutive championship, Princeton will then try and end the conference's drought in the NCAA tournament. The lone Ivy victory in the NCAAs came with Harvard's historic upset of No. 1 Stanford in 1998. Assistant coach Milena Flores was on that Stanford squad.

"We know it's very rare for an Ivy team to win in the NCAA tournament," Banghart said. "They've been there twice and come up empty."

Princeton's past two NCAA tournament trips resulted in losses to St. John's and Georgetown. The Tigers hope for a change this season.

"It would be amazing. It's a dream for any college player to make it to the tournament, let alone to win a game," said Rasheed, who missed last season's loss to Georgetown because of an ACL injury. "That moment would be something special."

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Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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