Perez’s Late Basket Lifts NC State to 66-63 Win Over Irish :: WRALSportsFan.com



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Notre Dame Fighting Irish 63
Wolfpack in the state of North CarolinaWolfpack in the state of North Carolina 66
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— Raina Perez decided to come back for another season and hopefully take NC State to new heights. The senior guard did just that, helping the Wolfpack to their first regional final in 24 years.

The senior guard stole the ball at midcourt and made a lead layup with 14 seconds left to send the top seeded Wolfpack to a 66-63 comeback win over No. 5 Notre Dame on Saturday.

It’s the Wolfpack’s first trip to the Elite Eight since 1998, when they reached the Final Four.

NC State had lost its previous three tournaments in the Sweet 16 and looked set to become four in a row until the late rally led by Perez and Kai Crutchfield, who also came back for the additional COVID year the NCAA has ruled out. was awarded.

“For this group, it would have been hard for me to face the fact that they all came back and we still didn’t get over the hump,” said NC State coach Wes Moore. “That makes me feel really good and I’m so excited that our program is doing this, kind of a breakthrough. It took four years for the Sweet 16 to break through that wall.”

It wasn’t the first time Perez had made a huge splash for the Wolfpack on a big stage. She beat the competition-winning jumper to lift them to the ACC tournament championship last season.

Trailing 59-51 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Wolfpack rallied to score 15 of the last 19 points, capped by Perez’s layup. The Irish had one last chance, but Maddy Westbeld missed a three-pointer from the flank and Perez shot both free throws for the end margin.

“We practice this and knew I could do it,” Perez said of the free throws. “I’m just so glad I took them down.”

The Wolfpack had come in 63-62 when Elissa Cunane made the first of two free throws with 36 seconds left. After a timeout at Notre Dame, the Irish got the ball inbound in the backcourt and Dara Mabrey was stripped near midcourt by Perez, who took the ball in for the layup and the lead. It was the first there since the 7:43 mark of the second quarter.

NC State (32-3) advanced to Monday night’s regional finals, where it faced second-seeded UConn.

Cunane scored 16 points and Crutchfield added 14 for the Wolfpack, who avenged a previous loss to the Irish on February 1. That was NC State’s most recent loss of the season and its only loss in conference play.

“It’s a bump that we had to overcome and the girls are determined and I am determined and we made it happen.” said Crutchfield of reaching the regional final.

Olivia Miles scored 21 points and Westbeld added 13 for the Irish (24-9).

“No one thought we would be doing this from a team that didn’t make it to the tournament last year and battled through a lot of setbacks with COVID and injuries and players,” said Miles. “It’s just incredible to see what we’ve done, and I’m sure we’ll remember this feeling the way we remembered it last year and come back and go even further.”

Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey has returned the Irish to the nation’s elite women’s basketball teams in her second season as head coach. The Irish missed the NCAA last year for the first time since 1995.

“I wanted to emphasize to them that I don’t want them to feel like this is the end of the world,” Ivey said. “We have a bright future, with two freshmen and one sophomore.”

The Wolfpack started well, leading 16-12 after a quarter before the Irish went after their freshman Miles. She and fellow freshman Sonia Citron scored seven in a row for the Irish to open a 36-26 lead. The Wolfpack trailed 38-30 at halftime. The lead remained around eight for most of the third quarter before the NC State rally.

“The whole game we didn’t want what happened last year,” said Cunane. “We are now playing like we were upset last year. We didn’t play with enough power. We wanted to come here and go past the Sweet 16 and here we are. We’ve had to work hard for it, but we’re here.”

BIG PHOTO

Notre Dame: The Irish are a very young squad and are going back to being one of the top teams in the country.

NC State: The Wolfpack struggled for most of the game, but eventually found a way to win and reach the Elite Eight with a senior-led squad.

HOW THEY GET HERE

Notre Dame: The Irish defeated UMass in the first round before beating fourth seed Oklahoma 108-64 in the second.

NC State: The Wolfpack led both Longwood and Kansas State to advance to the Sweet 16.

MOTHER LOVE

It was a tough 24 hours for the Ivey family on the field. Niele Ivey made the 2.5-hour journey from Connecticut to Philadelphia to watch her son Jaden play in the men’s Sweet 16 with Purdue. The Boilermakers lost to No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s. She went to the team hotel and gave her son a hug before returning to Connecticut at around 2am

“It’s been 24 tough hours,” the Notre Dame coach said after Saturday’s loss.

More AP coverage of March Madness: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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