Thursday’s March Madness Delivers Two New Cinderellas

No. 15 Princeton toppled Arizona, a No. 2 seed that was one of the favorites in the field, while No. 13 seed Furman knocked down No. 4 Virginia.

Marcus Foster, wearing a purple Furman jersey, yells in celebration after the win.
Marcus Foster and the Furman Paladins beat Virginia in the first round of the N.C.A.A. tournament.Credit...Matt Pendleton/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

SACRAMENTO — Nearly three decades after one of the most stunning upsets in N.C.A.A. history, the Princeton Tigers delivered another with a shocking 59-55 victory over second-seeded Arizona on Thursday.

After trailing most of the game, No. 15 seed Princeton’s tight defense and crisp passing allowed the Tigers to go on several runs in the second half, including a 9-0 run to close the game. With about two minutes left, Ryan Langborg drove the lane to give the Tigers the lead for good.

To that point, the Tigers had gone to the free throw line just once for the entire game. But with Arizona in trouble, the Wildcats fouled freshman Caden Pierce with 21 seconds to play, and he calmly sank both shots to make it 58-55.

Blake Peters and the Princeton Tigers rallied to beat No. 2 seed Arizona.Credit...Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Arizona’s Courtney Ramey and Kerr Kriisa each missed 3-point attempts in the final seconds, and, when Tosan Evbuomwan grabbed the rebound with three seconds left, Arizona fouled. Evbuomwan made the first free throw, missed the second and, as the clock expired, the Tigers mobbed each other in celebration.

It was their biggest win since the team dispatched U.C.L.A. in the 1996 N.C.A.A. tournament.

The loss was the second for Arizona as a No. 2 seed; the Wildcats also lost to Santa Clara in 1993. No. 15 seeds are now 11-138 all time against No. 2 seeds. — Scott Miller

Less than three hours into the round of 64 of the men’s tournament, No. 13 seed Furman delivered a wild finish, knocking off a No. 4 Virginia team that may be best known for dropping its first-round game as the tournament’s top overall seed five years ago.

This time, it looked like the Cavaliers would hold off a rally by the underdog. Virginia and Furman traded leads in the final five minutes of the game until Virginia went up by 4 points, 67-63, with 19 seconds left.

Furman's Garrett Hien drew a foul and hit both free throws — and then came a breakdown on an inbounds play by the Cavaliers.

Virginia’s Kihei Clark tried to pass the ball halfway up the court, but it was intercepted by Hien. He quickly passed it to JP Pegues, who nailed a 3-pointer from the wing with about two seconds left. Final score: 68-67.

“We had them trapped, I was calling for a foul, but the good lord knew it, and they couldn’t hear me,” Furman Coach Bob Richey said at the postgame news conference.

Virginia started the game on an 8-0 run and built what seemed to be a comfortable lead, sitting on a double-digit margin with under 11 minutes left in the game. But Furman chipped away and tied the game with 5:42 left, setting up the furious finish.

The loss will sting for the Cavaliers, but they may find a silver lining in their recent past: After their 2018 first-round loss to the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, the Cavaliers came back the next season to win the championship. — Oskar Garcia

Ty Berry and Northwestern beat Boise State on Thursday.Credit...Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

SACRAMENTO — With a 75-67 win over Boise State in just its second N.C.A.A. tournament appearance, Northwestern set itself up to make its deepest run ever into the month of March.

For the Broncos, a run is still waiting. Boise State, despite outrebounding Northwestern, dropped to 0-9 in its N.C.A.A. tournament appearances. The Broncos are 0-4 under Coach Leon Rice, who spoke passionately before their practice a day earlier about what a difference a March win would make to his program.

“It would mean so much for our fans,” he said, adding, “I want it so bad for our players, to keep them going. I want to keep this group together as long as I can keep this group together. You can’t do that if you lose. The moment you lose, it’s done.”

By Thursday night, it was over; the Broncos finished 24-10 and were headed home.

The feeling for Northwestern was similar to its first tournament appearance in 2017. Then, the Wildcats slipped past Vanderbilt in the first round, 68-66, before falling to Gonzaga. Set to play the winner of the game that followed here at the Golden 1 Center — U.C.L.A. vs. U.N.C.-Asheville — Northwestern can reach its first Sweet 16 in school history with a victory on Saturday. — Scott Miller

SACRAMENTO — Utah State was hanging around. Just as soon as they found openings in 3-point territory, the thinking went, the 10th-seeded Aggies were going to sprint past Missouri.

But that never happened. The No. 7 seed Tigers, a team seen as a potential upset victim in the first round of the men’s N.C.A.A. tournament, won the game, 76-65.

Missouri’s pressure defense stymied an Aggies team that ranked fifth in the nation in 3-point field-goal percentage, holding them to 0 for 11 in the first half and just 4 for 24 for the game. Utah State was 0 for 13 before the junior guard Steven Ashworth, who is sixth in the nation in 3-point percentage (.443), finally swished one with 17:51 remaining. For the game, the Tigers held Ashworth to 2 for 10 from 3-point land.

“Our approach was to pressure full court,” Missouri guard D’Moi Hodge said. “We know what they wanted. They wanted jump shots. We tried to force them to the basket to make them make two, make the big man score.

“Make them take tough threes, force them into bad shots,” Hodge added. “That helped us in the long run.”

Missouri ranked first nationally with a turnover margin of plus-5.9. The Tigers nearly matched that number on Thursday: They forced 15 Utah State turnovers and committed only 10 themselves. — Scott Miller

Men’s Bracket

    • 5
      San Diego State
    • 9
      Florida Atlantic
    • 5
      Miami (Fla.)
    • 4
Kansas Coach Bill Self won’t coach in the Jayhawks’ first game of the N.C.A.A. tournament.Credit...Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Kansas coach Bill Self missed Thursday’s first-round NCAA tournament game against Howard as he continues to recover from a recent health problem.

Norm Roberts, a Kansas assistant coach who had been a head coach at St. John’s, continued to coach the team in Self’s absence.

Self, 60, missed the Big 12 tournament last week after undergoing a procedure to treat blocked arteries in his heart. The Hall of Fame coach was released Sunday from a hospital.

Kansas (22-7) went 13-5 in the Big 12, winning a regular-season title for the 17th time during Self’s 20-year tenure, but lost to Texas, 76-56, in the Big 12 tournament final on Saturday. The Jayhawks, who won last year’s N.C.A.A. tournament, are the No. 3 overall seed — and No. 1 in the West — this postseason, despite losing three starters from the 2022 title-winning team. — Adam Zagoria

Michigan’s Laila Phelia missed seven games in February with a leg injury.Credit...David Berding/Getty Images

BATON ROUGE, La. — The Michigan women’s team may be getting healthy at just the right time.

The Wolverines played all of February without Laila Phelia, who had a leg injury. Phelia, a sophomore guard, is one of three Michigan players averaging at least 16 points per game. The team went 4-3 without her, but she returned for the Big Ten Conference tournament.

Michigan also played its last two games in February without Leigha Brown, the fifth-year guard who scores a team-leading 18 points per game and whose 5.9 assists per game rank 15th in Division I.

In late February, the Division I selection committee regarded Michigan as a top-16 seed, which would have allowed the Wolverines to host the first and second rounds on campus in Ann Arbor. But Michigan closed the month with three losses in four games, including a road loss to sub-.500 Wisconsin.

Michigan slid to a No. 6 seed, forcing it to travel to Louisiana State’s campus, where it will take on 11th-seeded U.N.L.V. on Friday at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

But the team sees positives to the time missed by its leaders. The sophomore guard Jordan Hobbs started every game in February and posted three double-figure scoring games. Greta Kampschroeder and Cameron Williams also increased their roles.

“A lot of people got experience that maybe they wouldn’t have if Laila was still there,” Emily Kiser, a graduate forward who averages 16.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, said in a news conference. “So I think we’re coming back stronger from it.”

Kiser expects a physical game against U.N.L.V., which enters the tournament having won 22 consecutive games. But Michigan will enter with its top three scorers — Brown, Phelia and Kiser — back together.

“Because other teams aren’t able to do that, just take away one player, we’re able to have other options,” Phelia said. — Evan Easterling

ALBANY — Some of the top teams in the men’s N.C.A.A. tournament are dealing with significant injuries to key players.

Houston guard Marcus Sasser, the player of the year in the American Athletic Conference, suffered a groin injury in the semifinals of the conference tournament. Houston was still installed as a No. 1 seed and the No. 2 overall behind Alabama despite the uncertainty around its first first-team all-American since Hakeem Olajuwon.

On Wednesday, ahead of Houston’s Thursday night game against No. 16 Northern Kentucky, Coach Kelvin Sampson told reporters that Sasser would be “one of those infamous game-time decisions.” Sasser ended up starting the game but aggravated the injury and didn’t play in the second half.

Fully healthy, Houston may have the best backcourt in college in Sasser, who averages 17.1 points and 3.2 assists, and Jamal Shead, who averages 10.3 points and 5.4 assists. But without Sasser, Houston may struggle to score.

Houston’s Marcus Sasser at a practice session Wednesday.Credit...Alex Slitz/Getty Images

Miami’s Norchad Omier is a 6-foot-7 forward from Nicaragua who averages 13.6 points and 9.7 rebounds; he also plays a key role as a big, physical body in the team’s defensive scheme. Omier missed most of Miami’s Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament semifinal against Duke with an ankle injury, but he looked good during an on-court workout Thursday at MVP Arena in Albany.

“We’re going to put him through a workout today and see how he does,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said beforehand. “If he’s good, we’re good. If he’s not, we’ll know it and we’ll make the adjustment.”

Several other teams are missing also key contributors. Tennessee point guard Zakai Zeigler suffered an A.C.L. tear in a win over Arkansas on Feb. 28. Xavier is playing without forward Zach Freemantle, who has been out since Jan. 28 with a foot injury. And U.C.L.A. doesn’t have Jaylen Clark, one of the best defenders in the nation, because of an Achilles injury.

Heading into Thursday’s game against No. 15 U.N.C. Asheville, the No. 2 Bruins were also weighing whether to play their freshman big man Adem Bona, who is battling left-shoulder soreness after an injury against Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament. He did participate in “some stuff” during Wednesday’s practice, head coach Mick Cronin told reporters; he was available for the game but did not play.

“He’s going to have to play through some soreness at some point if we’re still playing,” Cronin said. “But he would never be put in harm’s way for his career.” — Adam Zagoria

BATON ROUGE, La. — The imprint of the city of Las Vegas is all over the women’s basketball team from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Three starters, Coach Lindy La Rocque and the assistant coach Mia Bell all call Las Vegas home. The Rebels even clinched their automatic bid on campus, winning the Mountain West Conference tournament final over Wyoming at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Following her career at Spring Valley High in Las Vegas, fifth-year guard Essence Booker took a winding path back to the city. She began her career at the University of Nevada in Reno, transferred to Ball State for a season, and then came to U.N.L.V.

The other two Vegas starters, guard Justice Ethridge and center Desi-Rae Young, came straight from their high schools but with different levels of acclaim. Ethridge had won the 2017-18 Gatorade Player of the Year Award in Nevada, while Young had just one other scholarship offer, from Pepperdine.

All three have delivered key moments during their team’s 22-game win streak — the second-longest run in Division I, behind South Carolina. The Rebels will take that winning streak into their first-round matchup with sixth-seeded Michigan on Friday.

Booker had a 25-point double-double in a 5-point win over Colorado State. Ethridge had 8 straight points in the third quarter of the Mountain West semifinal against San Diego State. And Young had her 18th double-double of the season, with 28 points and 17 rebounds, in the conference tournament final.

“I know they have a lot of pride, just representing the city that they’re from and showing all the young players back there, because we have a lot of talent in the city of Las Vegas, showing them what’s possible,” Bell said in an interview. “You don’t have to go somewhere that’s considered big time, you can make big time wherever you’re at.” — Evan Easterling

ALBANY — Iona Coach Rick Pitino already admired former President Barack Obama. Now, he’s an even bigger fan.

When Obama posted his N.C.A.A. tournament brackets on Twitter on Wednesday, he picked Pitino and the No. 13 Gaels to upset No. 4 Connecticut in the men’s first round, in their meeting Friday afternoon, and then to beat V.C.U. before losing to Kansas in the round of 16.

“I’ve always said that President Obama was one of the most intelligent presidents we’ve ever had, and this lends credence to that,” Pitino cracked on Thursday.

Obama has a men’s Final Four of Baylor against Duke in one national semifinal and Houston against U.C.L.A. in the other. The former president picked Duke over Houston in the final.

In the women’s Final Four, Obama picked all No. 1 seeds, with South Carolina, the defending champion, beating Indiana in the final.

Pitino, 70, has been linked to the St. John’s head coaching opening, after the school fired Mike Anderson last week after four seasons.

“I have a terrific team coming back,” Pitino said Thursday, adding, “It’s going to take a special place for me to consider leaving.”

In addition to coaching stints at Kentucky and with the Knicks and Celtics, Pitino, a Naismith Hall of Famer, also previously coached in the Big East at Providence, leading the Friars to the 1987 Final Four, and at Louisville, which he guided to the N.C.A.A. championship in 2013. That title was vacated after the NCAA ruled that the school had paid escorts to help recruit players. Pitino has denied that he knew anything about the escort scandal. — Adam Zagoria