No. 9 Princeton women’s basketball bows to No. 8 West Virginia in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament

No. 9 Princeton and No. 8 West Virginia tip off in their NCAA Tournament opening-round matchup Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City. (Photo by Steve Silverman)

IOWA CITY, Iowa – No. 9 Princeton women’s basketball team ran into a buzzsaw in the first round of the 2024 women’s NCAA Tournament, falling to No. 8 West Virginia, 63-53, Saturday in Iowa City.

The loss ended an outstanding season for Princeton and marked the close of an era for a historic triumvirate of senior co-captains–Kailtyn Chen, Ellie Mitchell, and Chet Nweke–who led the program to new heights during their sensational careers at Old Nassau.

The Tigers (25-5, 15-1 Ivy) came into this contest against the Mountaineers (25-7, Big 12 13-7) filled with confidence and high hopes. And it first, it looked as though those hopes might be vindicated.

The Tigers got on the scoreboard first when Madison St. Rose rebounded her own miss and nailed a corner three to give them a 3-0 lead.  The sophomore Second Team All-Ivy selection from Old Bridge, N.J. led the Tigers in scoring with 22 points on 5-for-17 shooting, including 3-for-10 from distance.

A jumper by Chen extended Princeton’s lead to 5-0 before Jordan Harrison, a sophomore guard from Collierville, Tenn., drove the lane for a layup to get the Mountaineers on the board.

Princeton did an excellent job in the early going handling West Virginia’s vaunted press and led 12-8 late in the first quarter.  With 24 seconds to go and possession of the ball, the Tigers held for the last shot of the first stanza before Mitchell got a mid-range jumper to fall at the buzzer.  But upon further review, the officials determined that the ball had left Mitchell’s hand just after the clock expired.  They waved the bucket off and the Tigers’ lead remained at four.

In the second quarter, Princeton extended its lead.  A putback by Nweke off a Parker Hill miss put the Tigers up 14-8.  A pair of corner threes by Chen pushed Princeton’s lead to 23-14.  Chen finished with 17 points on 7-for-16 shooting.

With time winding down in the second quarter, West Virginia held for a final shot. JJ Quinerly, WVU’s sensational junior guard, found a wide open Harrison at the top of the key. Harrison launched a straight-on three that beat the buzzer.  The Mountaineers ran into the locker room trailing by only two, 26-24, and with momentum.

“I thought [that three] was huge for us,” WVU coach Mark Kellogg said in a postgame press conference.

In the second half, West Virginia turned up the pressure and pivotally forced Princeton into a sudden spate of turnovers.

After giving the ball away only five times in the entire first half, the Tigers coughed it up 12 times in the third stanza. Meanwhile, WVU converted Princeton’s miscues into fast break points, outscoring the Tigers 18-7 in a ruinous third quarter.  The Tigers never recovered.

“We knew we had 20 minutes left to give it our all or go home,” Harrison said. “So we just went back to what we’ve been doing all season. We finally settled in a little bit, got deflections, slowed them down, started playing in transition like we always do and how we have been doing all year.”

Trailing 42-33 entering the fourth quarter, Princeton finally got back on track behind the playmaking of St. Rose.  The super sophomore drove to the hoop, drew a foul and canned two free throws to narrow the deficit to seven.  St. Rose scored 11 of Princeton’s 20 fourth-quarter points and finished with a team high 22 points on 5-for-17 shooting.

Sophomore guard Madison St. Rose launches a three over West Virginia redshirt junior guard Kyah Watson during No. 9 Princeton’s loss to No. 8 West Virginia in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. (Photo by Steve Silverman)

But the Tigers had no answer for Quinerly, who drove into the paint and banked one home to re-establish a nine-point lead for West Virginia, 44-35, with 8:44 to go.  Quinerly finished with a game-high 29 points on 10-for-19 shooting.  The 5-foot-8 point guard also grabbed a team-high seven rebounds.

A corner three by Ashley Chea with just under a minute to play gave Princeton a pulse, albeit a faint one.  But a foul call against Mitchell, her fifth, with 28 seconds to play disqualified one of the greatest players in Princeton basketball history, a sour end to a brilliant collegiate career.

As the clock ran out, the Mountaineers and their faithful, boisterous fans celebrated a 63-53 win.  A dejected but proud group of Tigers shook hands with their opponents and walked off the court for the last time this season.

A dejected Princeton squad leaves the floor as West Virginia celebrates its victory in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday. (Photo by Steve Silverman)

The Mountaineers will face the No. 1 Iowa Hawkeyes in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Monday evening at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

After the game, Kaitlyn Chen fought through tears to reflect on her legendary Princeton legacy.

“Playing for Princeton has meant everything to me,” Chen said. “I couldn’t have done anything without my amazing coaches and, teammates, and I think that’s what I’m going to miss the most.  It’s going to be tough not being able to play with Madi[son St. Rose], Ellie, Chet, play for coach and our amazing coaching staff. But this place and this program has given me the best three years, four years of my life, and I’ve met such amazing people, and I’m so grateful for that experience.”

A sullen Carla Berube, Madison St. Rose and Kaitlyn Chen [from left] take questions after No. 9 Princeton’s loss to No. 8 West Virginia in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday in Iowa City. (Photo by Steve Silverman)
Despite the departure of Princeton’s historic class of ’24, Princeton women’s basketball is well-positioned for continued success next season and beyond. While still processing the disappointing loss, Princeton coach Carla Berube looked ahead to a promising future.

“I think we have got some great, talented, skilled, hard-working players coming back; Madi is one of them, Skye, and there’s a great group that we really haven’t seen too much of that I am just absolutely excited to coach moving forward. It’s a great group coming back.”

There will be more to reflect upon in this space in the coming days, but for now a grateful Princeton nation can feel nothing but gratitude, respect, and love for this spectacular Tigers team, its fabulous coaching staff, and especially the sensational senior class of student athletes who wore orange and black during the past four years.

The Tigers brought unparalleled winning and joy to Old Nassau and their legacy will forever be enshrined in our memories and the multitude of banners they brought home to the rafters of Jadwin Gymnasium.