BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Time was not on the side of NC State’s women’s basketball team on Saturday afternoon, and the top seed in the Bridgeport Region had the lead for all of 14.8 seconds in the second half of their hard-fought Sweet 16 matchup.
Long enough to secure a spot amongst the NCAA Tournament elite, one which the school had not occupied for what seemed like an eternity.
Raina Perez’s steal at halfcourt and subsequent breakaway layup with 14.8 seconds remaining was the game-winning basket in an epic rally for the Wolfpack, as it came back from eight down earlier in the fourth quarter to stun No. 5 Notre Dame 66-63 at Total Mortgage Arena. Perez hit two free throws with 1.5 seconds remaining after a missed three-pointer Notre Dame as the Wolfpack ended the game scoring the game’s last seven points.
NC State advances to its second-ever Elite Eight, with its first coming in 1998 while led by the legendary head coach Kay Yow. In that game in Dayton, NC State upset Connecticut to advance to its only Final Four to date, and the Wolfpack will once again have to get through the Huskies to head to the national semifinals after UConn defeated Indiana 75-58 in the second semifinal in Bridgeport.
The Wolfpack were staring at a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter before their defense turned the tide, forcing seven Fighting Irish turnovers in the final 10 minutes to slowly chip away at the lead. Elissa Cunane, who led NC State with 16 points, hit 1-of-2 free throws with 36.8 seconds left to cut Notre Dame’s lead to 63-62, and after Notre Dame called a timeout to advance the ball into the frontcourt, the Irish had trouble on more than one occasion playing keepaway. The Wolfpack’s Kayla Jones knocked away an inbounds pass out of play that had to be reviewed before it was confirmed that Notre Dame would keep possession. A few seconds later, Notre Dame’s Dara Mabrey had the ball get stuck on her hip dribbling at halfcourt, allowing Perez to swoop in for the steal and eventual game-winning layup.
Freshman guard Olivia Miles led the Fighting Irish with 21 points, six rebounds and six assists, while Maddy Westbeld chipped in with 13 points.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Saturday’s regional semifinals in Bridgeport, with all photos taken by ALOST senior photographer Robert Cole. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 47 pictures in total.