The Princeton men’s and women’s basketball teams are spending spring break out west in their respective NCAA Tournaments.
The 15th-seeded men face second-seeded Arizona 4:10 p.m. ET Thursday in Sacramento, California, in the South Regional first round. The 10th-seeded women tip off against seventh-seeded North Carolina State 10 p.m. ET Friday in Salt Lake City, Utah, in the Greenville Regional 2 first round.
The last time that both Princeton basketball teams were each in the NCAA Tournament the same year was 2011. That was three years before men’s forward Tosan Evbuomwan ’23 gravitated away from soccer to take up basketball, and players on both teams were still in grade school. The men are making their first NCAA appearance since 2017, when they lost by two points to Notre Dame. The women are in the NCAAs for the fourth straight season.
The Princeton men improved to 21-8 by knocking off Penn on Saturday and Yale on Sunday for the Ivy League tournament’s automatic bid behind a balanced attack led by Evbuomwan, Matt Allocco ’24, and Ivy Rookie of the Year Caden Pierce ’26. The Tigers are hoping to harness that win-or-go-home attitude again.
“It’s actually what I’ve been thinking about the most,” said men’s coach Mitch Henderson ’98. “You have to channel what last weekend was. Of course, the opponent is so good and the stage is so much bigger. You have to have a healthy respect for the opponent — which is what we did this past weekend — and a really great amount of focus but also fearlessness.”
Arizona (28-6) won the Pac-12 championship. Arizona is 7-0 on neutral courts this year, and Princeton is bidding to become the first nonconference foe to beat them this year. The Wildcats start a 7-footer at center, Oumar Ballo, and 6-11 forward, Azuolas Tubelis, and rank fourth in the country in scoring.
“We’re playing against an excellent transition offensive team, so any turnover is going to be an automatic two points,” Henderson said. “Valuing the ball is the key.”
“Those were really big moments,” said Princeton women’s coach Carla Berube. “That experience was vital. I think it helped us in big games this year — that feeling we had during Kentucky and Indiana last year, that feeling that no moment is too big and you have to stay poised and together.”
The Princeton women improved to 23-5 with wins over Penn on Friday and Harvard on Saturday to capture the Ivy League’s automatic bid to the NCAAs. N.C. State, coached by Wes Moore, is 20-11 after losing six of its last 10 games. The only common opponent this season was UConn, which beat N.C. State, 91-69, on Nov. 20, before holding off Princeton, 69-64, on Dec. 8.
“We’re expecting them to be at their best,” Berube said. “They have some really talented players and they’re well coached.”
The Tiger women are riding a 15-game winning streak. Princeton is locked in for Friday’s challenge and the chance advance to the second round Sunday against either host No. 2 seed Utah or No. 15 Gardner-Webb.
“The bright lights and the moment and just how big this game is can sometimes take you away from why you’re there and playing the game of basketball, but I think our team does a really good job of staying focused and staying the course and doing the little things and doing it together,” Berube said. “So I think last year’s experience can really help us and bode well for the weekend ahead.”
The Princeton men may not have that same NCAA experience to fall back on, but they have their recent season-changing run. The Tigers found their roles during four straight wins after a heartbreaking regular-season loss to Yale.
“We’re playing our best right now,” said Henderson. “That’s what you want to tap into. That’s what gives me confidence.”
The Princeton men will be looking for their first NCAA Tournament win since 1998 when they beat UNLV in the first round, but that was as a No. 5 seed. The Tigers are returning to a more customary underdog role, in which they last won in 1996 as a No. 13 seed over defending NCAA champion UCLA when Henderson was a sophomore guard. Arizona plays in the same conference as UCLA. Thursday’s winner faces the winner of No. 7 Missouri or No. 10 Utah State on Saturday.
“When you look at an upset, there’s a lot of factors in play,” Henderson said. “Neutral site. Both teams are traveling. You want to tap into the fact that the scout and the details matter in a game like this. Then of course I thought we played with great confidence on the weekend, and we have to keep that going.”