In March 1996, Princeton beat Penn to win the Ivy League Championship and secure an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. For Mitch Henderson – who played on that Princeton team and is now the Tigers’ head coach – that game is unforgettable.
But so is what happened afterward in the locker room.
“Coach Carril retired,” Henderson said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show, referring to Pete Carril. “So we were heading to Indianapolis to play the defending champs, UCLA, knowing that our coach was retiring.”
The Tigers were short – literally – but they weren’t short on motivation.
“I always tell everybody that we walked onto the floor for the game with UCLA kind of as an accident, but at least it was an accident on our part,” Henderson said. “They were enormous compared to us.”
It didn’t matter. Princeton beat the Bruins, 43-41, this after trailing 41-34 with more than six minutes remaining. The Tigers didn’t allow another point and won the game on a layup by Gabe Lewullis.
“We won on a back-door lay-up, and we still talk about all the little moments about that game,” Henderson said. “I love that moment for myself and my teammates, but this is a very similar group to the group that I played on in the sense that this team that I have now, they’re very close, they really like being around each other, and they want to do something special on their own.”
Indeed, Henderson hopes to lead Princeton to another first-round upset – this time as a coach. His No. 12 Tigers (23-6) face No. 5 Notre Dame (25-9) on Thursday at 12:15 p.m. ET.
“Coach Carril used to always say to us, ‘I’m preparing you to win. In order for us to be successful in this game we have – not you can try to do these things, but we have to do these things,’” Henderson recalled. “That’s true, I think, when you get into March. You got to have a singular mindset of the things that are most important in that particular game, so we carry that with us. This group’s done that. All season we said, ‘Look, we’ve got to do these things really well tonight,’ and they’ve responded.”