The Princeton women’s basketball team earned a historic victory in front of President Barack Obama. UConn rolled in its opener and another 11 seed pulled off an upset.
Such was the second day of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night.
The Tigers’ first win in the NCAA Tournament came with the cheerer-in-chief in attendance. His niece Leslie Robinson is a freshman on the only undefeated team in women’s Division I basketball. Obama became the first sitting president to take in a NCAA Tournament game since Bill Clinton watched his Arkansas Razorbacks win the men’s title in 1994.
“He was actually sitting right in front of my family, so I’d look back at my family, and I’d be like, ‘Oh, my God. It’s Barack.’ But it certainly wasn’t in my focus,” Princeton coach Courtney Banghart said.
“And that’s not belittling his importance. That will go down as a highlight, as well, and I’m hoping there’s a picture of me — and he’s somewhere in the background,” she continued. “Someone got that, right?”
Princeton had lost its first four NCAA appearances and the Ivy League had only one other victory in the history of the NCAAs. That one was special too with 16th seeded Harvard taking down No. 1 seed Stanford in 1998.
“I usually try to forget the things that bring me down in life, and that’s one of them,” Banghart said of her winless record coming into Saturday. “My NCAA Tournament record is atrocious. But tonight it’s not so atrocious.”
The Tigers’ reward for the victory is a matchup with top seed Maryland on Monday night.
“It’s something that they’ll remember forever, those kids in the locker room.”
Arkansas-Little Rock pulled off a third win by an 11 seed with its 69-60 victory over Texas A&M. LSU couldn’t make it a perfect round for the lower seed when the Lady Tigers lost to No. 6 South Florida, which was hosting the opening round game. That ended a streak of 16 straight first round victories for LSU.
Still, the three opening round victories tied the mark set in 2006 for wins in the first round by 11s.
Here are some of the things we learned on Saturday:
STILL WINLESS: It’s 0-176 and counting for the 14 and 15 seeds. Since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1994 it’s been a tough road for the lower seeds. Boise State did put a scare into Tennessee before losing by nine. Alabama State, BYU and Ohio all lost by double digits.
“I don’t think any game is a given. I really don’t,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. “I think women’s basketball is getting better. There’s better coaches. There are just better players. There are multidimensional players. … I’m trying to figure out how Boise State lost 10 games before us. Some teams kind of jell late. Some teams peak early.”
HOME COOKING: The women’s tournament went back to the top 16 teams hosting for the first time since 2003. The hosts went 8-0 on Saturday and didn’t lose in the first round after a perfect mark on Friday. Tennessee improved to 55-0 at home in the NCAA Tournament. The Lady Vols are the only team to play every season in the NCAAs.
OLD BIG EAST: There was no question that the old incarnation of the Big East was the premiere conference in women’s basketball. Teams that spent time in that conference went 9-1 in the opening round with the lone loss coming when two former members squared off in Rutgers vs. Seton Hall. The Scarlet Knights took the New Jersey bragging rights with a 79-66 win over the Pirates.
Connecticut, Notre Dame, DePaul, Syracuse, Louisville, South Florida, Miami and Pittsburgh also won. The Hurricanes and Panthers pulled off upsets as double-digit seeds.
Most of those teams are in the ACC now and that conference went 8-0 in the opening round.
Here are some things to watch Sunday:
EARLY SEASON REMATCHES: Both Syracuse and DePaul gave top seeds South Carolina and Notre Dame scares early in the season. The Orange lost by four in the Junkanoo Jam over Thanksgiving weekend and the Blue Demons fell in overtime at home to the Irish missing free throw after free throw down the stretch.
Both teams hope for better outcomes this time.
HAWKEYE DREAM: Iowa coach Lisa Bluder has never made it to the Sweet 16 in her career. She hopes this will be the season with the Hawkeyes hosting Miami in the second round.
“It’s great to be here. But I don’t think it’s any secret that we want to go farther; that we would love to be playing next week,” Bluder said.
FULL CIRCLE: Kim Mulkey’s first season at Baylor ended in a loss to Arkansas in the NCAA Tournament. It was the Lady Bears first appearance in the tournament and only exit in the opener. Now 14 years and two titles later, Mulkey’s team will face the Razorbacks again.
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