DOUG FEINBERG, AP Basketball Writer
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Princeton Tigers capped off a perfect regular season with a hard-fought victory over their rival.
When the final buzzer sounded, Courtney Banghart and her Tigers could finally celebrate their remarkable accomplishment — going 30-0.
After a subdued celebration Saturday when the Tigers beat Columbia to clinch the Ivy title, Princeton enjoyed Tuesday night’s 55-42 win over Penn. The Tigers jumped with each other at center court celebrating their achievement.
Princeton was then presented with the Ivy League championship trophy which they held aloft much to the delight of the many Tigers fans who made the 45-minute trip down from campus. One fan held up a sign saying “Go Tigers! 30-0 Perfect!”
The 13th-ranked Tigers became the 15th team to enter the NCAA Tournament unbeaten.
“People started mentioning to me at the end of non-conference season,” Banghart said of the chance to be undefeated. “We have such great respect for this league and the back-to-back games are such a challenge. Halfway through the league after we had seen everybody, we knew it was a possibility.”
Senior guard Blake Dietrick started entertaining the idea of perfection much earlier than her coach.
“I think we really started recognizing it after Michigan,” said Dietrick, who had 11 points, seven assists and five rebounds in the win. “It was a monumental win for us against a nonconference team. Very, very early in the season I asked Annie Tarakchian, if we go undefeated will you bleach your hair? We were 2-0 at that point. Annie will now have bleached hair for the tournament.”
Princeton is hoping that this historic season doesn’t end with another disappointing first round loss in the NCAAs. The Tigers want to become the second Ivy team to win a game, joining the 16th-seeded Harvard squad that upset No. 1 Stanford.
“That is No. 1 on our list right now, second is finishing my thesis,” Dietrick said of winning a tournament game. “It’s the thing I want to do most in the world, most in my life.”
They’ll have to wait until Monday night to see who they will face in the opening round.
Princeton had won its first 13 games in the league by an average of 27 points, but this was a lot tougher against their longtime rival. Penn had ended the Tigers’ four-year run as Ivy champs last season and now the Quakers were going to make it as difficult as possible for them to go undefeated.
Michelle Nwokedi had 13 points and 14 rebounds for Penn (20-8, 11-3).
Neither team could get much of a lead over the game’s first 25 minutes and the Tigers led 31-29 with 14:43 left before using an 11-2 run to finally take command.
Alex Wheatley, who led the Tigers with 17 points, started and ended the run with layups. Penn could only get within seven the rest of the way.
“I’ve always said to anyone who asked me I think they’re really good,” Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said. “I think they are right where they need to be. They are talented top to bottom. They are very deep, well coached, play the right way. I think they are very good.”
Both teams got off to slow starts as Penn held a 14-12 lead midway through the first half after Sydney Stipanovich’s three-point play.
Princeton then scored nine straight points, including the first six by Vanessa Smith to take a seven-point lead with 5:11 left in the half. The Tigers led 26-21 at the break. Neither team shot well in the first half with the pair combining for 20-for-59 from the field (34 percent).
Princeton: The Tigers became the second Ivy League team to enter the NCAA Tournament unbeaten. The 1970-71 Penn men’s team went 28-0 before losing in the NCAAs.
Penn: The Quakers had won nine straight games, the school’s longest winning streak since they won 21 straight in 2000-01. … Penn’s seniors are the winningest class in school history with 73 victories. This group won an Ivy Championship last year and the Big 5 title.
Penn will make its first-ever appearance in the WNIT. The Quakers finished second in the Ivies and earned the automatic berth.
“We’re going to play more,” McLaughlin said. “It’s a tough one tonight, they wanted this one. We’re going to play more, regroup get back at it Thursday.”
Princeton: NCAA Tournament.
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