Obama watches niece, Princeton women win first NCAA tourney game
The Princeton’s women’s basketball team was undefeated. That was enough to bring a significant fan to its first NCAA tournament game on Saturday: President Barack Obama.
The eighth-seeded Tigers were playing No. 9 seed Wisconsin-Green Bay at College Park, Md., and they hoped to break a slide that saw them not having won an NCAA tournament game.
They did just that, beating UWGB 80-70.
After trailing at halftime, Princeton came back to improve to 31-0 and advance to the Round of 32. It was only the second time all season that the Tigers trailed at the break — the first was their opening game.
The 30-0 regular-season mark — the only major college team other than the Kentucky men to be perfect — was enough to capture the attention of the college basketball world.
And, apparently, the President of the United States, whose niece, Leslie Robinson, is a freshman on the Tigers’ roster. First Lady Michelle Obama, who couldn’t attend because she is in Cambodia traveling, is a Princeton graduate; her brother and Leslie’s father, Craig Robinson, is a former Princeton star — at two-time Ivy League Player of the Year — who went on to coach the men’s teams at Brown (2006-08) and Oregon State (2008-14).
Obama’s niece did not appear in the game.
Obama arrived during pregame warmups, a few minutes before tipoff, taking a seat among orange-wearing Princeton fans not far off the court. Police cars dotted roads leading to the arena, and there was heavy security at entrances, including metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs.
The president was accompanied by his daughter Malia, mother-in-law, Marian Robinson, Craig Robinson and other Robinson family members. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a former professional basketball player and a Chicago pal of the president, also attended.
"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 told The Associated Press after the game.
"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?"
Green Bay coach Kevin Borseth told The AP, "I shook his hand. And I got a picture. … Well, the President came. I’m going to let my guard down for a minute and be excited about that."
Most spectators wore orange "Tiger Pride" T-shirts to support the Princeton team. Obama wore a dark sweater.
During the second half, a brief chant of "Four more years!" rose from some fans, drawing a chuckle from Obama.
The Tigers were not happy being an 8-seed in the tournament, a slight they are using to inspire them to make a run in the tourney.
There was some question whether Ivy League champion Princeton deserved a better seeding, given that it was the only undefeated women’s team and was ranked 13th in the final AP poll. But the Tigers had been 0-4 in the NCAAs, all since 2010.
It was only the second win in NCAA tournament history for an Ivy League team. The Tigers joined Harvard, which knocked off No. 1 seed Stanford in 1998 marking the only time a 16-seed has won a game. Ivy League teams were 1-22 before Saturday.
It doesn’t get any easier for Princeton. Next up is No. 1 seed Maryland on the Terrapins’ home floor on Monday night. The Terps beat 16th-seeded New Mexico State later in the afternoon on Saturday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.