Princeton women’s basketball is going dancing for the third time in three years. Coming off a decisive win against Columbia in the Ivy League Tournament last weekend, the No. 9 seed Tigers (25-4) will face off against the No. 8 seed West Virginia Mountaineers (24-7) in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, March 23 at 5:30 p.m. Eastern at the Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa (TV coverage on ESPN2). 

Princeton head coach Carla Berube spoke about West Virginia before the Tigers’ practice on Monday. “It’s beautiful basketball,” she said. “They demand high efficiency. We have to take really good care of the basketball and break the press.”

West Virginia sits close to the top of Division I women’s basketball in the number of forced turnovers per game (23.9) and steals per game (13.9). The Tigers don’t crack the top 50 teams in either of these metrics. 

Ball security is typically one of the Tigers’ strengths — they’re ranked 27th in the nation in turnovers per game, averaging just 12.9 per contest. But in the Ivy League semifinal against Penn, the Tigers struggled, turning the ball over 21 times in a 59–54 victory. 

“I think it’s really good that we experienced that against the Penn team,” said Madison St. Rose ’26. “We realized that having all these turnovers gives opponents a chance to get back in the game.”

Mark Kellogg, the Mountaineers coach, was quick to think past his team’s first round game with the Tigers. On Sunday he touted the possibility of playing the Iowa Hawkeyes — and all-time NCAA leading scorer Caitlin Clark — in the second round, assuming a Princeton loss. Since then, in interviews with local media, he seems to have reconsidered the Tigers as an opponent.“They’re really, really good; well-coached,” Kellogg told WOWK 13 News. “They’re tough, they’re physical, they rebound it really well. Three guards lead them in scoring. [They] don’t shoot a ton of threes but can get going from three. And then they kind of kill teams at the mid-range. They’re elite as any team, as good as any team from the mid-range.”

West Virginia’s offense is led by junior guard JJ Quinerly, who averages 19.6 points per game. Princeton’s leading scorer, Kaitlyn Chen ’24, averages 15.9 points per game, but has a higher field goal percentage than Quinerly. Princeton’s defense is strong — the Tigers may not have as many forced turnovers as West Virginia, but they’re skilled at gaining control of the ball. Ellie Mitchell ’24’s 10 rebounds per game far outpaces the leading rebounder for the Mountaineers.  

“They’re a feisty team, so they’re gonna get after it,” said Chet Nweke ’24.

Nweke has become a key part of the Tigers’ season. Playing double the minutes this year than last, she is shooting almost 60% from the field and picking up 4.8 rebounds per game.

This year is a special year for Ivy League women’s basketball, with two teams in the tournament for the first time since 2016. Columbia, a No. 12 seed, lost its “first four” play-in game against Vanderbilt on Wednesday night, 72-68. When the Tigers won an at-large bid in 2016, they played West Virginia in the first round. The Mountaineers won that matchup, 74-65.

A win in the first round this year means a possibility of facing off against Iowa in the second round, on the Hawkeyes’ home court. Tickets for all of Iowa’s games this weekend sold out near instantly. 

“It’s the hottest ticket in all of the land,” Berube said. 

But right now, everyone is locked in on one opponent.

“We have our eyes on West Virginia right now,” said Berube. “Of course, in all of these weekends — in Ivy League [Tournament] weekend, you have to prepare for more than just one team. So that if you do make it through round one, you’re ready for round two. So … we’ll be ready.”

The Home Court Conundrum

Princeton has won the Ivy League’s automatic bid in every possible year of head coach Carla Berube’s tenure, and its last two postseasons have ended in close second-round losses: to Indiana in Bloomington in 2022 and Utah in Salt Lake City in 2023. 

If the Tigers are able to get past the first round for the third straight year, a matchup with No. 1 seed Iowa and megastar Caitlin Clark likely awaits, in what would be another second-round road game. For the women, the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament are hosted by the top four seeds in each region, as opposed to the neutral courts used in the men’s tournament. Last year, 13 of those 16 teams advanced to the Sweet 16. 

When asked about the potential to change this model, Berube said that given the “exploding” popularity of women’s college basketball, “there’s potential for us to do that, to go to a neutral site,” and that change could happen “hopefully soon, sooner rather later.” However, Berube also stressed that her team will be focused on winning in the first round before thinking about what may lie ahead.

“You have to go into tough places and win games to be a successful team,” she said. — By Jack Hartman ’24

Princeton’s Results in its 10 Previous NCAA Tournament Appearances

2023, Salt Lake City, Utah
(10) Princeton 64, (7) North Carolina State 63
(2) Utah 63, (10) Princeton 56

2022, Bloomington, Ind.
(11) Princeton 69, (6) Kentucky 62
(3) Indiana 56, (11) Princeton 55

2019, Raleigh, N.C.
(6) Kentucky 82, (11) Princeton 77

2018, Raleigh, N.C.
(5) Maryland 77, (12) Princeton 57

2016, Columbus, Ohio
(6) West Virginia 74, (11) Princeton 65

2015, College Park, Md.
(8) Princeton 80, (9) Green Bay 70
(1) Maryland 85, (8) Princeton 70

2013, Waco, Texas
(8) Florida State 60, (9) Princeton 44

2012, Bridgeport, Conn.
(8) Kansas State 67, (9) Princeton 64

2011, College Park, Md.
(5) Georgetown 65, (12) Princeton 49

2010, Tallahassee, Fla.
(6) St. John’s 65, (11) Princeton 47