January 28, 2004: Sports
Sports Web Exclusives! P-nut Gallery column
gut check pays dividends
By Sean Gregory 98
Five days a week last summer, mens basketball center Judson Wallace 05 drove 20 minutes from his Atlanta home to the sprawling Main Event Fitness center in Marietta, Georgia. There, he joined Jamal Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens, an Atlanta native who this season became only the fifth N.F.L. back to rush for 2,000 yards, and other local pro and college athletes for a 70-minute agility and conditioning workout called Extreme Performance Enhancement. I figured if it could work for Jamal, it can sure work for me, says Wallace, a 6' 10" politics major.
The routine consists of a 12-second sprint up a sharp treadmill incline, eight to 10 squat jumps against resistance, and one minute of shuffling around an exercise floor with an elastic tube tied to the waist. Sweat, rinse, and repeat 20 times. Its enough to induce nausea, even in well-conditioned athletes. Youd find Judson hunched over that trash can in the corner, says trainer Tony Villani, who developed the regimen.
But the work paid off. After a stellar sophomore finish (more than 20 points in four of Princetons last five games), Wallace made an even more remarkable junior debut, topping 25 points in three of Princetons first five contests. While his scoring recently has slowed through 11 games, Wallace led 65 Princeton with 15.2 points per game the ex-high jumper still grabs opponents attention. Theres no specific way to defend him, says Penn coach Fran Dunphy. You might tell a guy to play off of a typical center, but Judsons such an outstanding perimeter shooter. Big guys have to be out on him all the time, which is tough.
Furthermore, Wallace has help in the middle. For the first time in seven years, Princeton features a true backup at center, the spot coach John Thompson 88 calls the hub of our offense. Mike Stephens 05, a 6' 10", 250-pound center from California, already has doubled his scoring output from his first two seasons, and shot 58 percent from the field through the January 7 game against Monmouth. His breakout came at No. 3 Duke on December 17, when he scored a career-high 10 points and supplied Princetons best highlight. With 18 minutes remaining, Stephens grabbed Blue Devil center Shavlik Randolphs shot out of the air, hustled down the floor, and took a Will Venable 05 pass for a fast-break layup, cutting Dukes lead to 3433. Although the Tigers eventually lost 6951, the game let Stephens puff his wide chest. It gave me the confidence to know I can get my hook shot off against anybody, he says. Thompson calls Stephenss rise the surprise of the early season. Its been a while since the offense hasnt dropped off with our backup center in the game, Thompson says.
Dont start equating the Wallace-Stephens combo to Steve Goodrich 98 and Jesse Rosenfeld 97, the big men who led Princeton to back-to-back titles in 1996 and 1997. (Goodrich won a third in 1998.) Were not quite there, Thompson says. Princeton is only as good as its center, and Wallace has been inconsistent, averaging 21.3 p.p.g. on 63 percent shooting in the Tigers six wins, and 7.8 p.p.g. on 29 percent in their five losses. And while Stephenss size is invaluable in the post, it hampers his ability to run the floor. Princetons 5855 loss to No. 7 Oklahoma on January 3 was bittersweet, not because Ed Persia 04s desperation three-pointer fell inches short at the buzzer, but because Wallace and Stephens combined for just six points on 1-9 shooting from the floor. More production from the centers might have given the Tigers a victory.
Wallace, for one, isnt satisfied. His unmistakable frustration on the court has gotten him into trouble once this year (a technical foul at Rutgers), and he admits that emotions can hinder his play. Ive got to improve in that area, Wallace says. Ive also got to get better at helping my teammates win when my shot isnt falling. His results could mean the difference between a spring break trip to the N.C.A.A. tournament and an early return to the gym in Marietta.
Sean Gregory 98 is a reporter at Time magazine.
In its home game against Georgia Tech December 21, the womens basketball team drained five straight three-pointers to take a surprising 178 lead halfway into the opening period. The Yellow Jackets answered and led 3424 at the half, but Princetons best was yet to come.
Everyone was really excited during halftime, says forward Rebecca Brown 06. We realized that we can really play with these teams. Its not just talk.
Behind six more three-pointers and Browns 15 points on layups and free throws, Princeton regained the lead before losing by one point in an agonizing finish. Georgia Techs Alex Stewart swished two free throws with 0:00 on the clock after she was fouled on the games final play.
Princeton coach Richard Barron called the game a confidence builder for his young team, but the carryover was hardly as dramatic as he hoped. The Tigers lost their next two games before beating winless Lafayette 6660 on January 3.
Even at a disappointing 39, Princeton displayed promise heading into its Ivy League opener at Penn January 9. Freshmen account for half of the 12-player roster, half of the minutes played, and 43.4 percent of the Tigers scoring. Katy Digovich 07 and Casey Lockwood 07 each average more than 10 points per game. Sophomores make up the rest of the starting lineup.
Barron, whose recruiting has increased the teams athleticism in the last two years, relies partly on the reputation of Princeton athletics to support his pitch. The success of all the other programs around us, especially the womens teams, helps make it believable that were going to be able to do it too, he says.
WOMENS HOCKEY, ranked No. 8 in two national polls, notched its ninth win of the year at Findlay College December 14. Forward Gretchen Anderson 04 has scored a team-best 18 goals, pushing her career total to 64. In MENS HOCKEY, Chris Owen 04s game-winning goal early in the third period gave the Tigers their second victory over Harvard December 16. Princeton has won five of six matches against the Crimson in the last three seasons.
WRESTLING heavyweight Joe Looke 04 recorded Princetons only pin in a January 3 win over Bacone College, bringing a close to the Tigers five-match losing streak. The team opens its Ivy League schedule January 31 at home against Columbia and Cornell.
Defending national champion Yasser El-Halaby 06 and the MENS SQUASH team sprinted to a 40 start in December, shutting out the opposition in three of the first four matches. WOMENS SQUASH started the season 30, winning 80 of its 84 games played.
MENS SWIMMING, ranked 23rd in the nation, lost a close dual meet at No. 17 Pittsburgh January 5. The Tigers won the final two events but could not catch up to the Panthers, who won 154.5145.5. WOMENS SWIMMING also struggled against Pittsburgh, which won 11 of 16 events and ended the Tigers school-record 47-meet winning streak.
WOMENS FENCING opened with a strong showing at the Penn State Invitational November 2223, placing two competitors in the top 10 in each of the three events. Catherine Pack 05s second place in the saber led the Tigers. MENS FENCINGs top finisher at Penn State was James Leighton 04, a seventh-place winner in the saber.
Former Princeton BASEBALL coach Tom OConnell was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame January 3. The Tigers won 323 games, one Ivy League title, and two Eastern Intercollegiate Baseball League championships in OConnells 16 seasons, from 1982 to 1997.