Raina Perez returned for one more season to help N.C. State reach new heights. Senior guard helped the Wolfpack reach their first regional final for 24 years.
The senior guard took the ball from midcourt and made a go ahead layup with 14 seconds remaining to send the Wolfpack to a 66 – 63 victory over No. 5 Notre Dame on Saturday.
This is the Wolfpack’s first trip in the Elite Eight since 1998, when they reached the Final Four.
N.C. State had been eliminated in the Sweet 16 of the three previous tournaments. It looked like it would make it four consecutive times until Perez and Kai Crutchfield led a rally that ended with a victory.
Wes Moore, N.C. State coach, said that it was difficult for him to accept the fact that the group came back and they still weren’t over the hump. “This makes me feel great and I’m so happy for our program to achieve this, sort of break through. It took four years of Sweet 16 to break through that wall.
Perez was not the first to make a huge impact for the Wolfpack on such a large stage. Perez won the game-winning jumper that lifted them to the ACC tournament title last season.
The Wolfpack led 59-51 at the start of the fourth quarter. However, they rallied and scored 15 of the final 19 points, capped by Perez’s layup. Maddy Westbeld missed a 3-pointer on the wing, and Perez made both free throws to give the Irish a last chance.
Perez stated that the free throws were something Perez had practiced and was confident in. “I’m so happy that I got them down,” Perez said.
With 36 seconds remaining, the Wolfpack was within 63-62. Elissa Cunane scored the first of her two free throws. The Irish won the ball backcourt after a Notre Dame timeout. Dara Mabrey was then stripped by Perez near midcourt, who took it in for the layup. It was the first time it had been there since the 7:43 mark in the second quarter.
N.C. State (32-3), advanced to Monday’s regional final where it will face UConn, which is second-seeded.
Cunane scored 16 and Crutchfield added 14. The Wolfpack vengeanced a previous loss to the Irish on February 1. This was N.C. State’s latest loss and the only loss in conference play.
Crutchfield said that reaching the regional final was a difficult task. “It’s a hump, we had to get over, and the girls were determined and I am determined and we made it happen.”
Olivia Miles scored 21 points, while Westbeld added 13, for the Irish (24-9).
Miles stated that no one expected us to do this, coming from a team who did not qualify for the tournament last year. He also said that they had suffered through injuries and COVID. It’s amazing to see the accomplishments we have made. I think we will remember them and be able to go further.
In her second season as Notre Dame head coach, Niele Ivey has put the Irish back on the national elite women’s basketball team. Last year, the Irish missed the NCAAs for the first time since 1995.
Ivey stated, “I wanted them to know that this is not the end of the world.” We have a bright future. Two freshmen and one sophomore are joining us.
After a quarter, the Wolfpack led 16-12 before the Irish caught up to their freshman Miles. Sonia Citron, a fellow first-year player, scored seven consecutive points for the Irish to take a lead of 36-26. At halftime, the Wolfpack was trailing 38-30. For most of the third quarter, the lead was around eight before N.C. State’s rally.
Cunane stated that the whole game was not what they wanted to see, citing last year’s results. “We are playing now as if we were in the same upset last year.” We didn’t play with enough toughness. We wanted to get out there and win the Sweet 16 and we have. It was hard work but we made it.
Notre Dame: These Irish are a young team and will be back as one of the best in the country.
N.C. State: Although the Wolfpack struggled for most of the game they were able to win the final and reach the Elite Eight with a senior-led team.
WHAT HAS THEY GOTEN HERE?
Notre Dame: UMass was topped by the Irish in the first round, and Oklahoma was defeated 108-64 in Round 2.
N.C. State – The Wolfpack defeated Longwood and Kansas State to reach the Sweet 16.
It was a difficult 24 hours for the Iveys on the court. Niele Ivey drove 2.5 hours from Connecticut down to Philadelphia to see her son Jaden in the Sweet 16 for men with Purdue. The Boilermakers fell to No. Saint Peter’s was the 15th seed. After giving her son a hug, she returned to Connecticut at 2:20 a.m.
After Saturday’s defeat, Notre Dame coach John McDonough said that it had been a difficult 24 hours.