Princeton Women's Undefeated Season Sets Eyes On March Madness
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Finally this hour, celebrating a perfect season - the Princeton women's basketball team finished its regular season with a record of 30 wins, no losses, beating the University of Pennsylvania in their final game last night. That means the Princeton women notched the best year by a women's or men's team in Ivy League history. And the Tigers now move on to March Madness. Princeton coach Courtney Banghart joins me now. And I bet there was quite a celebration after the game last night. What was it like?
COURTNEY BANGHART: Oh, man, celebrating such a special moment. Those are the things you never forget. And hearing you say 30 wins, 0 losses still brings me back to that celebration in the locker room with our team.
BLOCK: Is there a point in an undefeated season where you just don't talk about it? You talk around it, but it's sort of like a no-hitter or a perfect game in baseball. You don't want to jinx it.
BANGHART: You know, I think with basketball and with the fact that the media is such a - you know, such a information sharing, you can't hide these things anymore. So how we dealt with it was every Monday when the poll came out, when I started practice, I would say, hey guys, we're ranked number 13th this week. And we'd all cheer, and then we'd show film of how to get better. So we were the opposite of a no-hitter. We talked about it plenty.
BLOCK: Well, going into this season, did you have a feeling that you could do this - you could go undefeated - that the team was that good?
BANGHART: You know, I knew we'd bring back a lot of talent. I just didn't know if we had quite enough edge. You know, winning takes an enormous amount of individual and collective edge. And this is such a likeable group that I just didn't know if we were going to be, you know, tough enough and sort of aggressive enough. I was pretty hard on them in the fall to try to build that competitiveness and to build that relentless fire. And thankfully, they trusted me enough to sign on for that.
BLOCK: You were hard on them, you said.
BANGHART: I was very hard on them, yeah. This is the hardest I've been on any team I've coached here, and we've had a lot of really good teams here. I just made everything competitive, and there was always a winner and a loser to everything we did, and the losers would always run. And if we didn't value the ball enough, they would run for that, too. And just trying to really help them understand just the - just how hard winning anything is, much less a game and much less a season. So I was hard on them, and that's what gets forgotten, I think, when you have such a successful season is all the hard times that helped us get here. And those are the things as a coach I really value.
BLOCK: Well, you're heading into the NCAA tournament now. What are your prospects? You'll find out your seating on Monday. What do you think?
BANGHART: Yup. You know, the great thing about the NCAA tournament is that it's the 64 best teams in the country, and it's not based on your athletic budget. It's not based on your tradition. It's not based on your - how good your football team is. It's based on what you have done this year. And so there are 64 really, really, really good teams in that tournament of which we're going to be one of them. So we know - well, whoever we play, we hope it's at home, but we're willing to travel as well. Wherever we play and whoever we play, it'll be a total battle, and we'll just keep trying to do what we do, and that's play really well on both sides of the ball and do so with a smile.
BLOCK: But you're going up against this daunting fact. Only one women's Ivy League team has ever won a game in the NCAA tournament. That was Harvard back in 1998.
BANGHART: Yeah we're on uncharted terrain kind of all year. We've been sharing our story, which I think is a really good one, as the year has progressed. And we hope our story continues 'cause a lot of people are interested in it.
BLOCK: You're going to want to turn that number around, right?
BANGHART: Heck yeah, for the league. We've got to represent Princeton, and we know now we have to represent the league the way it deserves.
BLOCK: Well, Coach Banghart, congratulations and best of luck.
BANGHART: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
BLOCK: That's Courtney Banghart, coach of the Princeton women's basketball team which just completed a perfect season, 30 and 0. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.