It’s a matchup that’s about as intriguing as it gets in the second round of the women’s NCAA tournament: unbeaten Princeton against top-seeded Maryland, champions of the Big Ten.
Game: Monday 3/23/15 at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN3
Princeton coach Courtney Banghart fully expects her team to make a statement Monday night against one of the elite squads in the nation. She only wishes the Ivy League champions didn’t have to do it so soon — and on Maryland’s floor.
That, unfortunately, is the baggage that comes with being a No. 8 seed.
Despite being the only undefeated team in this tournament, Princeton (31-0) is seeded in the middle of the Spokane Region. After getting past Wisconsin-Green Bay 80-70 on Saturday, the Tigers now face Maryland (31-2), which went unbeaten in the Big Ten, is 16-0 at home and riding a 25-game winning streak overall.
“Do I think the year we had warranted this to be later on down the road? Of course,” Banghart said Sunday. “I think playing a one-seed in the second round for a team that’s 31-0 is unfortunate for the game.”
Maryland coach Brenda Frese understands Banghart’s sentiment.
“I think their reaction was justified, when you talk about being undefeated,” Frese said.
Even though the Tigers never won an NCAA Tournament game before Saturday and the Ivy League has historically fared miserably in the postseason, Princeton has captured the attention of women’s basketball fans around the country. President Barack Obama, who has a niece on the squad, went to the game Saturday and has the Tigers beating Maryland in his bracket.
“A lot of people are interested in this team,” Banghart said. “To put us against a one in the second round, that’s the challenge. I would have liked to play them in maybe the Elite Eight. But we get them now, and we get them in their gym, which creates another challenge.”
Maryland has more height, a deeper roster and far more experience in the postseason. The Terrapins did, however, commit 20 turnovers in their 75-57 win over New Mexico State on Saturday.
“Princeton is a team that has great leadership, high IQ,” Frese said. “This should be a great matchup.”
Some things to know about Princeton vs. Maryland:
FAVORITISM: With the undefeated Tigers drawing attention from everyone from the casual fan to the President of the United States, the Terrapins kind of feel like the other team in this draw.
“I wouldn’t say we’re the underdog, but that’s what it kind of feels like,” Maryland guard Lexie Brown said. “Their season has been great, our season has been great. I think everyone’s just excited to see an Ivy League team make some noise. That’s great for the women’s game. I respect all the attention they’re bringing.”
ONE GAME ONLY: If these teams met in a World Series format, the Terrapins might have the edge. But things don’t work that way in the NCAA Tournament.
“Knowing them and knowing us and that the game is at Maryland, you play that game 10 times they’re going to win more than five,” Banghart said. “But we only have to win it one time. If we’re sound with our game plan, we shoot the ball well and extend them well, we understand how to defend them as a group, I like our chances.”
FRUITS OF THEIR LABOR: After the final buzzer Saturday, players from this Princeton year’s team celebrated with several from the past.
“A lot of them were crying, they were so excited,” senior forward Mariah Smith said. “That win was just a huge statement for the program as a whole and the work coach Banghart has put in over these last few years.”
Now in her eighth season, Banghart started 7-23 and 14-14, then peeled off five straight 20-win seasons before topping 30 this year.
MIRROR IMAGE: When Frese looks at Princeton on tape, she is reminded of Maryland.
“There’s a lot of similarities in both team’s play, when you talk about tremendous balance — four players averaging in double figures — and how defensive both teams are,” Frese said. “It’s going to be a fun game. It will come down to how each team executes the little things.”
LAST HURRAH: This will be the final home game for Maryland senior Laurin Mincy, who scored 19 on Saturday and has every intention of extending her career into April.
“We’re in a one-and-done situation now,” she said. “I personally don’t want my season to be over. We want to go to Spokane and take our season farther than we did last year. We need to make sure we’re focused, have that motivation and come out with intensity.”