IOWA CITY, Iowa — Princeton women’s basketball lost a defense-heavy game against West Virginia tonight, falling 63-53 in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. 

Princeton wasn’t able to execute in the second half, turning the ball over 16 times after halftime and picking up just nine rebounds, compared to West Virginia’s 15.

The game started out in Princeton’s favor — the Ivy League champions led for the tiger’s share of the first half, more than 18 minutes. Forward Ellie Mitchell ’24 had 10 rebounds going into the locker room, while no West Virginia player had more than two. 

The Mountaineers made just three steals in the first half, though they averaged 13.9 per game throughout the season. Each team had five turnovers going into halftime. Princeton’s shooting percentage looked deceptively low at that point — 35.5% on field goals and 25% on 3-pointers. But what those percentages didn’t show is that the Tigers outshot the Mountaineers 31 to 23.  

“I haven’t seen a team as good as Princeton in the mid-range, maybe ever,” West Virginia head coach Mark Kellogg said.

But Princeton’s low shooting percentage was a harbinger of what was to follow in the third quarter, which Princeton head coach Carla Berube characterized as “very aggressive.” In one stretch, the Mountaineers scored 13 straight points, turning a five point Tigers lead into an eight point deficit.

Sporting orange and black, about 70 Princeton faithful cheered on the Tigers at the University of Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena. During the first half of the game, a few thousand Iowa fans stuck around to take in the action following the home-team’s blowout win over Holy Cross. After halftime, the arena felt dead. That’s when the momentum swung definitively toward the Mountaineers.

The Tigers attempted 51 shots over the course of the game — but just 17 made it through the hoop. 

West Virginia’s JJ Quinerly posted an impressive 29 points — and could have topped 30 if she had made more of her free throws. 

Princeton became more and more frustrated as the energy on the court also seemed to wane. With about two minutes on the game clock, “Sweet Caroline” played ghoulishly over the arena’s loudspeakers. 

For the seniors, Kaitlyn Chen ’24, Ellie Mitchell ’24, and Chet Nweke ’24, it was their last game for the Tigers. The trio won Ivy titles in each of their last three seasons. (Mitchell also was part of the 2019-20 Ivy champs, before taking a pandemic gap year.)

“You couldn’t find three people that care more, that want to be great, that get in the gym,” said Berube postgame. "I think they’ve left an incredible legacy."

Mitchell fouled out in the fourth quarter on a contested foul — a call that frustrated the Princeton fans. Before she left the game, she picked up 15 boards. 

Chen scored 17 points, including two three-pointers.

“Playing for Princeton has been everything to me,” Chen said, tearing up after the game. “This program has given me — the best three years, four years of my life.”

Chen, a first-year in 2020-21, when the Ivy League basketball season was canceled because of the pandemic, has already entered the graduate transfer portal, looking to play somewhere else with her remaining year of eligibility.

After the game just Chen, Mitchell, and their families remained in the arena, as members of the University of Iowa’s staff cleaned up the litter from the day’s games. The silence that filled the gaping stadium was broken only by hugs between the families and teammates.

Looking ahead, the Tigers will return five of the eight players who either started or came off the bench in the first-round game, led by Madison St. Rose ’26, who scored a team-high 22 points.

“It’s tough,” Berube said of moving on without the seniors, “but I think they’ll be ready.”