How Princeton women’s basketball clawed its way to the top of the Ivy League

The 2019-20 Princeton women’s basketball team’s campaign ended all too quickly due to COVID-19, but not before demonstrating the enduring strength of the program under a new coaching staff. (Princeton Athletics)

The 2019-20 Princeton women’s basketball team was by no means a “one-hit wonder.”

It was the product of a process begun more than a dozen years ago. Successful coaches do more than win games; they build a program, an organization that can produce highly competitive teams year after year. Successful programs are designed to withstand graduations, injuries, and the inevitable clash of egos and personalities in groups of a dozen or more highly competitive and talented individuals. To achieve success in college basketball over time is incredibly difficult. To achieve credibility on the national scene with a mid-major program and no athletic scholarships defies belief. Princeton has done that.

In 1970, the 225th year of Princeton’s existence, school administrators decided to adopt the revolutionary idea of coeducation, not coincidentally, I have always believed, in the year following my graduation. One year later, varsity basketball was introduced as a women’s intercollegiate sport. The Tigers enjoyed early success, winning the first four Ivy titles following the launching of a women’s postseason tournament in 1975. (The women played a postseason tournament until 1982. In 2017, the present tournament format was adopted. The top four men’s and women’s teams compete at the same site over the same weekend to determine the league’s NCAA representatives.)

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Penn-Princeton Tuesday roundup

Penn 62, Princeton 60 (Women)

Where to begin? With another storybook ending for the Quakers on Princeton’s home floor, and some delightful deja vu for coach Mike McLaughlin’s Red and Blue.

Two years after upsetting Princeton in stunning fashion with an outright Ivy League championship on the line at Jadwin Gym, 80-64, the Quakers toppled the Tigers again in the same scenario, clinching their second Ivy title in three seasons as Jadwin guests. Penn’s win followed another two-point victory over Princeton this season, a 50-48 overtime triumph at the Palestra.

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Q&A with Princeton coach Courtney Banghart

Courtney Banghart can't stop winning. (goprincetontigers.com)
Courtney Banghart can’t stop winning. (goprincetontigers.com)

Our Richard Kent caught up with Princeton women’s hoops coach Courtney Banghart, whose No. 16 Tigers are 24-0 with just six regular-season games left. Princeton’s 56-50 win at Yale last Saturday was its closest margin of victory all season.

IHO: Did Yale present any problems which were unanticipated?

CB: Yale played a really solid game. They were physical and ran with us on both ends. They made tough shots and capitalized on a sub par defensive night for us. On the offensive end, we forced too many early shots — albeit shots that we make on a regular night. When we moved the ball deeper into the possession we had more success. Our starting guards didn’t play well, but our posts were the difference. Sometimes, the reverse is true. That’s why they call it a team.

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