Bridgeport, CT-The NCAA’s Sweet sixteen Women’s Tournament kickoff was the place to be Saturday as #1 seed North Carolina State vs #5 seeded Notre Dame took to the floor at the Total Mortgage Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Though a familiar scene for both teams, it held weight for the Wolfpack looking to revenge a win after losing to the Fighting Irish their last match-up and secure a spot in the Final Four.
This year marks NC State’s 27th overall NCAA tournament appearance in Wolfpack history and the sixth under coach Moore’s leadership.
For the Irish, it was a huge turnaround from last year after finishing 10-10 overall missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in a quarter century. Since coach Ivey’s take over, the team has made a momentous comeback sustaining that bloodline her predecessor, Muffet Mcgraw strived for within her thirty-three year reign, now being given the opportunity to validate the traditions passed down and adding her own element.
The first half was intense and physical, ND’s Dara Mabrey and Olivia Miles set the tempo scoring the team’s first 11 of 12 points with Sam Brunelle coming off the bench to close out the first half. Maddy Westbeld was a tough matchup on the blocks for NCSU Elissa Cunane in the half.
Elissa Cunane and Diamond Johnson figured it out later in the quarter pouring in 7 of their squad’s points ending the first quarter down by eight (ND-38 NCSU-30).
“I just think this time of year, and I say it all the time because I was around Pat Summitt some in my early coaching career, she would say offense sells tickets, defense wins games and rebounding wins championships. We’ve got to be a great rebounding team this weekend if we want to be successful”, coach Moore said of his team during Friday’s media conference from the Veteran Tennessee coach, who changed the landscape of women’s basketball.
In the second half, ND’s Maya Dodson blocked a shot on one end and Olivia Miles finished it off on a reversed layup on the other end. The Fighting Irish’s half court game looked stagnant against the Wolfpack in that half. Kai Crutchfield and Cunane put NCSU on their backs in the second half.
ND led 44 -38 with 6:08 left in the 3rd and in control. NCSU’s offense bullied their way on the court and in the paint, upping their lead up by 8.
Start of the 4th, the Wolfpack ramped up their defensive pressure on the wings, making it difficult for Miles and Mabrey to shoot over the top of their zone. Miles made a layup and NCSU’s Diamond Johnson tried to answer but was blocked by Dodson. Sonia Cintron scored and it looked like the Irish had the game in hand going down the stretch.
Raina Perez had the ball running their offense with 2:32 left on the clock made a crisp pass to Cunane who tossed it to Crutchfield for three. The Fighting Irish true to their moniker wouldn’t go down without a fight.
With 35.0 ticks left on the clock in the 4th, Mabrey dribbled the ball pass half court and Perez swiped her pocket flying down the court for an easy layup to give NCSU a 64-63 lead with 14.8 left in the 4th. Westbeld’s last attempt for a three to retake the lead ended with Perez drawing a foul and going to the charity stripe, hitting both shots and sealing a 66-63 win for the Wolfpack and earning a spot in the Elite 8.
Coach Ivey expressing her sentiments after the game, “Well, tough loss. It came down to one possession. It’s really, really hard going through this type of situation, scenario. But I’m super proud of my team. I’m so proud of them. Coming from last year, not making the tournament, to being one possession away from going to the Elite Eight. I talked to them about it in the locker room. We have come so far, and the growth, the maturity of this team this entire season, the belief, the buy-in, I could not ask for a more special group. I love them so much and I’m just so proud”.
Next Up: Monday’s match-up, the winner of UConn vs Indiana game.