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March 24. 2013 12:52AM

Banghart eyes another trip to the NCAA dance


Princeton Tigers head coach Courtney Banghart along the bench during the first half against Stanford in a 2011 game. (Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)
As a player at Dartmouth College, Courtney Banghart made two trips to the Division I NCAA Tournament and nearly led the No. 13 Big Green to an upset victory against No. 4 Purdue in 2000. The Souhegan of Amherst graduate had six steals and 20 points before Dartmouth fell short against the defending national champions, losing, 70-66.

Banghart made her next two trips to the Big Dance as an assistant coach at Dartmouth, watching the team lose first-round games to Connecticut and Rutgers.

Today, as Princeton head coach, Banghart and the Tigers returns to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight season. The No. 9 Ivy Leaguers (22-6) take on No. 8 Florida State (22-9) in a first-round game in Waco, Texas, at 5:10 p.m. (ESPN2).

Princeton, much like the Harvard men's basketball team, enters the tournament without an NCAA Tournament victory in program history. Harvard stunned No. 3 New Mexico with a 68-62 upset win on Thursday night.

The Princeton women have three previous trips to the NCAAs - all on Banghart's watch. Last season, the Tigers lost a 67-64 battle against Kansas State.

"We are so thrilled to be here. The amount of work and effort that goes into earning a bid like this is something we don't take lightly, and to be back for a fourth straight trip is extra special," said Banghart, whose Souhegan teams won NHIAA state titles in 1995 and 1996. "I think what you'll see is a team that will be giving everything they have and will hopefully play as smart as they do hard. All I can is we are so proud to be represent the Ivy League and represent Princeton, and we'll do our best."

Princeton has enough leadership and star power for a win. Senior captains Niveen Rasheed and Lauren Polansky have led the Tigers to an unprecedented run of four consecutive Ivy League championships. It's not enough to simply reach the NCAA Tournament for this group.

"It's evolved from just being happy to be here," Banghart said after practice at the Ferrell Center in Waco. "Fortunately, we've played in some (big) games this year, and, in the Ivy League, every game is like a playoff game with no conference tournament."

Banghart, in six seasons at Princeton, has posted a 117-56 record.

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