SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Fans at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento could not believe their eyes. As the buzzer sounded, the Arizona Wildcats found themselves on the wrong side of history.
No. 15 seed Princeton 59, No. 2 seed Arizona 55.
The crowd at Thursday’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament game responded with cheers of excitement, gasps of shock and disbelief.
On the court, the emotions of college basketball in March were on full display. The Wildcats were deflated as they witnessed an otherwise great season come to an end. The Tigers were jumping up and down with excitement as they celebrated their moment in history.
The loss is just the 11th time a 15 seed has upset a 2 seed in the tournament since it expanded to 64 teams in 1985. However, it is also the third year in a row that such an upset has happened.
Although the results may come as a surprise to many, Princeton coach Mitch Henderson believed his team could pull it off.
“Maybe an upset on paper and to the country but it is not to us,” Henderson said.
After the loss, Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd was quick to give Princeton credit.
“We ran into a good team today that made all the right plays at the right time.” Lloyd said. “I tip my hat to them. They’re a hard team to play against and I knew it was going to be a tough game.”
What happened in Vegas definitely stayed in Vegas as a different Arizona men's basketball team showed up against Princeton. Our @lindsayzienty is in Sacramento for the #NCAA Tournament and has the story. pic.twitter.com/9pzKvANqWa
— Cronkite News: Phoenix Sports (@sportscronkite) March 17, 2023
There were moments in the game where Arizona appeared to be pulling away. The Wildcats at one point led 49-39 with 10:59 to go in the second half. However, they would allow Princeton to go on a 20-6 run to close out the game.
Lloyd was disappointed with his team’s late-game efforts.
“I didn’t think our end of game execution, I didn’t think our poise was what it has been in close games. That’s a little disappointing,” he said.
Despite the historical nature of the loss, Lloyd said the coaching staff and team need to view this as a learning experience.
“If you want to be a great player or you want to be a great coach you all got to learn from this.” he said. “You have to go back and figure out what happened and understand the value of being up 10 or 12 with 10 minutes to go.”
For the Wildcats, the loss was a disappointing one in what has otherwise been a successful season, including a regular season record of 25-6 and a Pac-12 Men’s Tournament Championship win over UCLA.
“We’re still trying to build and develop this program and I’m still trying to develop as a coach,” Lloyd said. “I think we were ranked in the top 10 for most of the year and these guys earned that. I thought we performed well on lots of big stages. Unfortunately, ultimately you are going to be judged sometimes by how you play in this tournament. That’s the good and the bad of it.”
It can be hard for players and coaches to bounce back from a loss like this However Lloyd is still confident in the direction that UArizona basketball is headed even after the upset.
“I love the direction the program is going in. It’s not going to be a setback and we as a program have to rally around that. We control how we react from this,” Lloyd said. “I am super proud of these guys. I’m super proud of all those guys in the locker room.”
Lloyd intends to use this loss to re-energize and help the team come back even stronger next season.
“I promise you, I’ll get better from this,” he said. “I have lots of room to grow as a coach and I’m hard on myself every day. I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and start the process of getting better.”
One thing that could prove key to the Wildcats’ success next season is the return of star Azuolas Tubelis.
“My thoughts are now to just get better,” Tubelis said about his future. “I have no idea where I am going to play and I have no idea where I want to play or what to do. We just lost a tough game so you can’t really expect an answer right now.”
Wildcats guard Kylan Boswell said the focus is to now regroup and prepare for next season.
“Going back to the drawing board with coach Lloyd and the coaching staff and regrouping as a team is really our main focus,” he said. “Just getting ready to go into the summer and getting prepared for next season.”