As the final seconds of Princeton’s women’s basketball season ticked away, its unbeaten run ending against No. 1 seed Maryland in the NCAA Tournament, Tigers coach Courtney Banghart took a stroll along the sideline.
She stopped in front of each of her seated players for a fist bump, no amount of coaching able to change this outcome.
After winning its first 31 games, Princeton lost its 32nd on Saturday night, staying with the higher-ranked and higher-regarded Terrapins on their home floor for a half before eventually being overwhelmed 85-70, a result that sends Maryland to the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive year.
Afterward, Banghart reiterated her complaint that Princeton deserved a better outcome than a No. 8 seeding that placed it in a second-round game on the road against a top school.
“Meeting Maryland on their home floor as a 1 (seed) is disappointing for the women’s game. These are two really good teams. To grow as a game, you want to have your best teams playing late into the season,” Banghart said.
“Our season ended earlier than we would have liked,” she added. “But I don’t think my second career is going to be in ‘bracketology,’ because I think I’m pretty well-educated and I’m not quite sure I understand it.”
This was the sort of successful, talented and deep team Princeton (31-1) hadn’t had to deal with much this season. Plus, among the 7,794 fans, the Maryland red far outnumbered the Princeton orange in the stands, and the “Let’s go, Maryland!” chants rang through the arena when player introductions concluded.
“I don’t want to dwell on ‘what ifs,'” said Blake Dietrick, the senior guard who led Princeton with 26 points. “We did everything we possibly could to earn a high seed: We won every single game in the regular season.”
That drew a chuckle from Banghart.
Vanessa Smith added 15 points for the Tigers, who led the nation in 3-point shooting percentage at 41.1 but hit only 23.5 percent Monday, going 4 of 17. At the other end, went 12 for 20, including 7 for 8 in the second half.
After leading 42-38 at halftime, the Terrapins (32-2) broke things open with a 13-0 run.
“I really felt like in that stretch, we just wore them out,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said.
Said Dietrick: “I mean, they shot 87.5 percent from 3 in the second half. If that’s what it takes to beat us, great.”
Laurin Mincy scored 27 points, making 6 of 7 of her 3-point tries, and Lexie Brown added 23 for Maryland, which takes a school-record 26-game winning streak into its Spokane Regional semifinal against No. 4-seeded Duke on Saturday.
Princeton heads home, knowing it won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time — but could not quite make it two in a row.
“What this team did was they made history. All you want to do in your life — and I told them that — is to leave a legacy and to do something of impact. And there’s not anyone attached to this team that doesn’t think they did both of those things,” Banghart said.
“I don’t think anybody will forget this team, me included,” she said. “I’m really proud of them.”
OBAMA’S NIECE THREATENED
A threat against President Barack Obama’s niece, a freshman forward for Princeton, prompted increased security at the arena, according University of Maryland police.
“College Park police, I’m sure, had that under control. Leslie is safe. She’s in my locker room. No one loves her like I do. She’s an important part of our team,” Banghart said. “Keep the freaks out of our gym.”
Princeton: The Tigers are 1-5 in the NCAA Tournament. … After trailing at halftime only once during the regular season, Princeton was down after 20 minutes in both tournament games, although it came back to beat Wisconsin-Green Bay on Saturday.
Maryland: Maryland is heading to the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in nine years. That includes the 2006 national championship and a Final Four trip last year.
Princeton: Season over.
Maryland: Faces No. 4 seed Duke at Spokane, Washington, on Saturday.