Princeton 73, Navy 57: Mids women no match for Tigers

December 6, 2013

With an opportunity to add a resume-building victory over a strong non-conference opponent, the Navy women’s basketball team instead proved little match for Princeton, falling behind by double digits in the first half and failing to offer much resistance thereafter in a 73-57 loss Friday night at Alumni Hall.

The Midshipmen had a three-game winning streak end and lost for only the second time in seven games amid off-target shooting and a Princeton defense that stifled senior center Jade Geif. The reigning two-time Patriot League player of the year finished with two points, matching a career low, on 1-for-5 shooting and was held without a basket until 17 minutes 3 seconds were left in regulation.

Navy (7-3) surrendered its most points this season, scored its second fewest and had no starter reach double figures. The Midshipmen missed 42 of 63 shots, went 7 for 28 from three-point range, nearly 10 percentage points below their season average, and suffered their most lopsided defeat since falling to Kentucky, 61-41, in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament.

“Princeton played well. I thought they shot well,” Navy Coach Stefanie Pemper said. “I thought they defended tough, Kara [Pollinger] and Alix [Membrano] particularly I thought they did a nice job on. Mostly just credit them.”

Pollinger led the starters with nine points but missed 11 of 15 shots, including going 1 for 8 from three-point range. The senior point guard came in averaging 44 percent from beyond the arc. Membrano, meantime, managed two points on 1-for-6 shooting.

Senior forward M.L. Morrison led Navy with 11 points, and freshman guard Sarita Conde had 10 points on 4-for-8 shooting. Conde matched her season-high in scoring and was one of only two Midshipmen players who did not shoot below 50 percent.

“We had the mentality of how this game was really important for our [NCAA] seeding but more so it was our next game,” Pollinger said. “It was preparing us for our conference, which is only one game away. We really just had trouble shaking free on offense and struggled on our transition defense and never really got in to a flow until M.L. Morrison came in and stepped up and did a lot of great things.”

Eleven-time Ivy League champion Princeton (4-4) had three players score in double figures, with sophomore guard Michelle Miller’s 20 points on 9-for-12 shooting leading the way. Junior forward Kristen Helmstetter had 18 points and made 6 of 10 shots, and sophomore guard Amanda Bernsten chipped in 12 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals.

In shooting 51 percent and 11 of 11 from the free throw line, the Tigers, who have four consecutive NCAA tournament berths, built a 17-point lead late in the first half courtesy of a 14-0 flurry and never looked back.

Sophomore guard-forward Annie Tarakchian got it started with a three-point play, and by the time Helmstetter sank a layup, Princeton had moved comfortably ahead, 29-12, with 4:50 to play until intermission. The closest Navy, the reigning three-time Patriot League tournament champions, would come in the second half was 15 points.

“We were really looking forward to this game,” Princeton Coach Courtney Banghart said. “Obviously Navy is a really good team. They’ve been to the tournament three times in a row. A really important regional contest. I feel like our group, we just continue to get better.”

Gene Wang is a sports reporter covering many local and national beats, including Navy football, the Capitals, Wizards, Nationals, women’s basketball, auto racing, boxing and golf. He joined The Washington Post sports department in 1990 as a member of the high school staff and worked as a copy editor and assignment editor for almost 19 years.
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