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March Madness preview: Women’s basketball faces No. 8 West Virginia, No. 1 Iowa awaits

Group of women in white shirts on a basketball court posing with a banner, smiling, and celebrating.
The Tigers celebrate officially clinching a March Madness after their Ivy Madness final win over Columbia last Saturday.
Photo courtesy of @Coach_Berube / X

The Tigers are back in March Madness — and nobody’s underestimating them now. Fresh off back-to-back appearances in the round of 32, Princeton women’s basketball (25–4 overall, 13–1 Ivy League) is ready to make noise once again. 

The first obstacle for the No. 9 Tigers hoping maintaining their streak is the No. 8 West Virginia Mountaineers (24–7 overall, 12–6 Big 12) in the Albany 2 region, which is widely considered to be the most competitive of the four regions. If the Tigers defeat West Virginia, No. 1 Iowa — and all-time NCAA Division I scorer Caitlin Clark — likely awaits in the second round. Further, lurking on the bottom half of the bracket are the defending champion LSU Tigers and dangerous UCLA Bruins, whom Princeton narrowly lost to earlier this year.


Princeton is coming off one of “their most complete game[s] of the season” in the Ivy Madness final against Columbia — who earned an at-large bid of their own into the Field of 68 — but the Tigers will be facing a completely different play style against West Virginia. Led by guards JJ Quinerly and Jordan Harrison, the Mountaineers are one of the best defensive teams in the country, so the two sides will be playing a matchup where points are at a premium.

“I’m really excited because of the fact that it just shows going into the game, who wants it more?” Sophomore guard Madison St. Rose told The Daily Princetonian. “It’s like, who’s going to be the most scrappy team, who’s going to hustle for those loose balls? Our motto is ‘Get Stops,’ so we’re going to try to out-hustle them and work as hard as possible in order to get this win.”

While both teams prioritize defense, they go about it in different ways. West Virginia often employs a full-court press and ranks second in the country in steals per game with 13.9 and first in turnover margin at +8.87.

“We have to take really good care of the basketball and break the press,” Head Coach Carla Berube said about facing West Virginia’s defense. “That pressure makes you take quick shots or not allow you to set up your offense.”

Princeton last played a steals-focused team in the Ivy League semifinal against Penn, where Penn guard Simone Sawyer had seven steals alone, part of a Quaker effort that forced 21 turnovers from the Tigers. Senior guard Chet Nweke recognized Princeton’s weakness here, highlighting a renewed focus in practice this week.

“The primary part of it is going to be just making sure that we secure the ball, secure the rebounds,” Nweke said. “They’re a feisty team, so they’re going to get after it.”


Compared to West Virginia’s aggressive defensive style, Princeton plays more deliberately, ranking a pedestrian 128th in the country with 8.1 steals per game, but succeeds by forcing their opponent into bad passes and bad shots.

On both the defensive and offensive fronts, Princeton finds success controlling the glass and driving up their rebounding margin. Senior forward Ellie Mitchell leads the effort, ranking 30th in the country with 10 rebounds per game, contributing to Princeton ranking 31st nationally in rebounding margins. Mitchell’s rebounding gives Princeton extra possessions every game, something that the shooting machine of Princeton, led by senior guard Kaitlyn Chen and Madison St. Rose, will have to take advantage of. 

“We don’t want to go away from who we are,” Berube said on how to make an offensive game plan. “We’ve been successful in our transition games; we want to keep that up, just need to be smart with our opportunities.”

Just as Princeton will need to rely on their stars for points, West Virginia will be looking to JJ Quinerly to lead their offense. 

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Quinerly leads the team averaging 19.6 points per game, but she does so primarily on drives to the basket rather than the three-point shot, a very different approach from the last star guard Princeton faced, Columbia’s Abbey Hsu. The Tigers contained Hsu by switching over screens and not giving her any room on the outside but will now need to slow down Quinerly’s ability to attack inside the arc.

“She gets a lot of scoring from steals in the open court, but she’s magnificent,” Berube said. “She’s just really quick, [a] great ball handler, gets into the line and just elevates pull-up jumpers, scores in a lot of different ways.”

Instead of the slower, full-court game that Princeton likes to force opponents into, West Virginia’s offense is categorized by quick possessions that come out of forced turnovers.

“They shoot the three very well, and they get out in the break because of those turnovers and get easy scoring opportunities,” Berube added. “It’s going to be a total team effort to not allow them to get touches inside or scores at the rim. We’ve got to do a good job of playing great help defense.”

Princeton will need to have their entire team working in unison, from the experienced veterans to the first-years getting their first March minutes. When the stakes are higher, the leadership March veterans Mitchell and Chen provide is even more important.

“The last two years we got used to playing in [March Madness],” Chen said. “Hopefully, me and Ellie are able to provide that experience and that composure and voice when we’re playing this weekend against West Virginia, especially to our younger players.”

St. Rose, who started both the Tigers’ March Madness games as a first-year last year, echoed the importance of having players to look up to.

“They set a really high tone,” St. Rose told the ‘Prince.’ “They know how big and exciting it is. They’ve been in situations when they’ve created upsets and just shocked the world, so they are really focused, and they make sure that the team is also really excited, but really focused at the same time.”

While Mitchell and Chen receive the most coverage as Princeton’s star seniors, Nweke has also emerged as a force in Princeton’s starting lineup in the second half of the season and will also be crucial to any Tigers win. Since entering the starting lineup, Nweke has gone from averaging just over 2 points per game to 6.3, a marked improvement.

“I guess what I did [when entering the starting lineup] was unlock my confidence,” Nweke reflected. “Spending a lot of time in the gym and seeing that pay off, I think is what helped me turn the switch in my head.”

Clearly, West Virginia is a formidable foe for the Tigers who are sure to present a competitive, hard-fought battle. But one would be remiss to not recognize where Princeton will be playing — Iowa. The home of the most prolific scorer in major college basketball history, Caitlin Clark and the Hawkeyes have garnered an unprecedented amount of coverage. 

If Princeton manages to defeat the Mountaineers, the Tigers would be facing Clark in her last-ever game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena barring a miraculous upset by Holy Cross or UT Martin. Princeton would surely face an uphill battle against Clark and the Hawkeyes, who average an impressive 92.8 points per game.

Recently, West Virginia head coach Mark Kellogg made waves with his comment, “Let’s win one and send Caitlin Clark packing,” appearing to overlook Princeton. However, Berube set a different tone about the spectacle that may await.

“It’s now become sort of the Mecca of women’s basketball right now, like there’s the hottest ticket in all of the land,” Berube said. “It’s exciting. I think we’re looking forward to it, but we have our eyes on West Virginia right now.”

Despite the unique, potentially distracting excitement of playing in March, Berube and the team are locking in on the task at hand.

“Guess what?” Berube said. “This is a business trip and we need to go in, win basketball games.”

Max Hines is a staff Sports writer for the ‘Prince.’

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