March 17, 2023
Princeton’s win over second-seeded Arizona was a bigger upset than its win over defending champion UCLA 27 years earlier, but there was no victory leap by Mitch Henderson ’94 this time.
Entering the opening round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament on Thursday, the odds were slim for the 15th-seeded Tigers, coached by Henderson, to make it past Arizona in the first round.
In fact, only 10 teams seeded No. 15 had ever beaten a No. 2 seed. According to the NCAA March Madness Bracket Challenge, more people picked Arizona to win the championship (4.73%) than Princeton to defeat Arizona in the first round (4.13%). But the odds didn’t stop Henderson’s Princeton team from upsetting the Wildcats 59-55.
Princeton trailed just 31-30 at halftime and needed to play its best ball in the second half to pull off the upset. They did just that, outrebounding Arizona 9-7, and edging the Wildcats in blocked shots 6-1. Arizona opened a 47-35 lead with just under 12 minutes remaining. Slowly but surely, Henderson’s squad closed the gap. Then the Princeton defense took over, holding Arizona to one basket in the final 4:50 to play.
The win comes 27 years after 13th-seeded Princeton defeated UCLA 43-41 in the opening round of the 1996 tournament. Henderson was playing point guard for Princeton that day, and the win sent Henderson flying into the air with exuberance. The picture remains one of the most iconic photos in Princeton sports history. As the final buzzer went off, people may have expected Henderson to re-create the iconic image, but instead, Henderson walked calmly down the sideline to shake hands with the Arizona team.
Henderson, the first Culver athlete to win 12 varsity letters, can now claim another first. He is the first person to win in the NCAA tournament with Princeton as a player and a coach. Both wins were highly improbable.
Next up for Princeton is No. 7-seed Missouri, Saturday at 6 p.m. Eastern in Sacramento, California. The game airs on TNT.