COLLEGE PARK, Md. – I have seen the future of women’s basketball, and it looks like this:
A hard-fought, taut second-round NCAA tournament game between teams ranked in the top 15 in the nation; an arena filled with the soaring noise of two industrial-strength fan bases; one team undefeated, the other having not lost since Dec. 3, 25 games ago.
In the end, Princeton’s dream season ended not with a whimper, but with a bang: a stunning 17-2 run by No. 1 seed Maryland to start the second half Monday night at Xfinity Center and blow open what had been a back-and-forth game, so slightly in the Terrapins’ favor by four points at halftime. In the end, Maryland won 85-70 by shooting a stunning 87.5% from three-point range in the second half, missing just once in eight attempts.
BRACKET: NCAA women’s basketball championship
“What a great college basketball game, as we expected it to be,” said Princeton coach Courtney Banghart, whose team finished the season 31-1. “Man, they shot the ball really well. Those were two really, really, really good teams.”
Not surprisingly, Maryland’s Brenda Frese wholeheartedly agreed.
“Just a tremendous game, a really fun game,” Frese said. “This is what you see come this time of year. They were physical, very aggressive and came in with a ton of poise and confidence. I think I jinxed us. I was watching film of their game against Michigan earlier in the year and said, ‘Whoever has to play Princeton is going to have a game.’ I was so impressed with them.”
If the women’s basketball naysayers needed proof, here it was: two smart, physical teams playing a brand of basketball that while it’s not above the rim, and never will be, should appeal to almost anyone. The teams are led by daughters of Title IX, born in the 1970s, women coaching women, which is increasingly as it should be in women’s sports if we are to show our daughters all the possibilities inherent in sports, including leading them.
Thankfully, no one used the antiquated and ridiculous adjective “Lady” before the nicknames Terrapins and Tigers. Had they tried, these players would have laughed them out of the gym.
On Saturday, President Obama arrived in this arena to cheer on his niece, Leslie Robinson, a Princeton freshman forward. On Monday, 7,794 spectators followed. Sadly, the real world also intruded when a threat was phoned in against Robinson before the game, necessitating extra security.
“Leslie’s safe, she’s in my locker room, no one loves her like I do,” Banghart said. “And she’s an important part of our team so keep the freaks out of the gym.”
Robinson apparently did not know about the threat. Nor did any of the Princeton players. They played with admirable abandon in the first half, out Maryland-ing Maryland by going inside for easy baskets time and again, while packing in their defense to deny Maryland the opportunity to go inside, as it is wont to do.
That wasn’t going to last, because Maryland was just too good, too strong and far too balanced. Five Terrapins scored in double figures, a textbook balance that Frese was quick to point out after the game.
This matchup could have happened in a regional final or even the Final Four. Instead, Princeton received a No. 8 seed despite its undefeated season and was forced to play Maryland now.
“The basketball geek in me is always excited to play against an elite team and to do so in front of so many people in a meaningful environment,” Banghart said before the game. “Do I think the year warranted this to be later down the road? Of course. To be playing a one seed in the second round for a team that’s 31-0 is unfortunate for the game.”
Unfortunate in one way, perfect in another.
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