NCAA women's tournament: NC State, Duke book ticket into the Sweet 16

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Tuesday, March 26, 2024
NC State Women's basketball joining Duke in Sweet 16
NC State women's basketball beat Tennessee Monday to keep dancing in the NCAA's Sweet 16 March Madness tournament.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- NC State is joining Duke in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Women's tournament.

The Wolfpack beat Tennessee inside Reynolds Coliseum on Monday to advance.

NC State

Aziaha James scored 22 points and No. 3 seed NC State blew nearly all of a 20-point lead before holding off No. 6 seed Tennessee 79-72 in Monday's second round of the NCAA tournament.

The win sent the Wolfpack ladies to the Sweet 16 for the 16th time.

"I'm just proud of them for keeping their heads up," NC State head coach Wes Moore said. "They could have real easily let the pressure get to them."

Saniya Rivers added 20 points for the Wolfpack (29-6), who dominated the second quarter to build that huge margin before the Lady Vols (20-13) started creeping their way back.

NC State's Mimi Collins and Tennessee's Jewel Spear battle for a rebound Monday at the NCAA tournament in Raleigh.
Ben McKeown

Tennessee got as close as two points in the fourth, but N.C. State did just enough to protect its lead. That sent the Wolfpack onward to a date with No. 2 seed Stanford in the Portland 4 Region.

James came up big in the critical moment amid the Lady Vols' surge. First, the 5-foot-9 junior scored on a floater over the outstretched arms of 6-6 post Tamari Key. Then, after River Baldwin blocked a shot from Rickea Jackson from behind, James curled around the left wing to catch a feed from Saniya Rivers and stuck a huge 3-pointer for a 70-63 lead at the 2:48 mark.

NC State's Aziaha James drives past Tennessee's Jasmine Powell during a second-round women's NCAA tournament game in Raleigh on Monday.
Ben McKeown

Tennessee didn't get it back to a one-possession game again.

"We knew it was a possibility," said Rivers. "We watched the game when they played South Carolina ... so we didn't want it to happen. But it happened, and like (James) said: we just kept our head up, stayed together."

Jackson had 33 points and 10 rebounds to lead Tennessee, which was trying for its third straight trip to the regional semifinals. And the Lady Vols flirted with tying the second-biggest comeback in women's tournament history, fighting back to within a single bucket with about 4 minutes left.

"They've done it a lot this year," Tennessee coach Kellie Harper said. "They've been able to wipe away a lot of big leads. And I think the one thing that has always helped us: our emotions rarely get the best of us."

N.C. State appeared on its way with a strong finish to the first quarter and an absolutely dominant second. After trailing 23-17 early, N.C. State outscored Tennessee 32-8 for the rest of the half - including a 16-2 burst that carried right into the locker room with reserve Maddie Cox's catch-and-fire corner 3 giving the Wolfpack an 18-point margin.

Mimi Collins scored in the first minute of the third quarter, pushing N.C. State to its biggest lead at 51-31 before the Lady Vols started the long climb back.

The game marked the first meeting between the programs, as well as deeply intertwined sidelined connections. There was Harper facing off against the program she led for four years in the difficult aftermath of the passing of late Hall of Famer Kay Yow. There was also coaching against Moore after working on his staff at Chattanooga.

"Kellie and Jon (Harper) are two of my dearest friends in the coaching profession," Moore said Sunday.

The Wolfpack was unranked in preseason -- a major insult for a program that has risen to national prominence and won three ACC titles in the past five seasons -- to No. 3 by early December after nonconference wins against Connecticut and Colorado. Now, Moore's club is heading to a fifth Sweet 16 in six tournaments, including a run to the Elite Eight in 2022.

The game was a homecoming of sorts for Tamari Key, the Lady Vols' center, who is from Cary.

"That's a great story, Tamari being able to play here, at home for her," Harper said. "What she's been through medically and to be able to fight through and come back and help lift this team throughout this season and now in the NCAA Tournament. Just really proud of her."

Moore said the Wolfpack recruited Key, but there wasn't a sustained connection.

"I don't think she ever came on an official visit," he said. "She's an unbelievable presence on both ends of the floor and a big challenge when you're trying to have an interior scoring game, things like that. She definitely impacts the game on both ends."

Key finished with 10 points of 5-of-6 shooting for the Lady Vols.

"I would have loved to have continued to take this team on the journey that we were on," Harper said. "Again, playing their best basketball at the end of the year. They were a lot of fun to coach.

"I'll give credit to Reynolds Coliseum. It was very loud," Harper added. "Our team had a difficult time communicating our sets. That happened several times."


Reigan Richardson scored 28 points and added seven rebounds as No. 7 seed Duke rallied from a 16-point first-half deficit to beat No. 2 seed Ohio State 75-63 on Sunday and earn a spot in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2018.

Richardson hit a 3-pointer from the wing to put Duke up 59-57 with 5:21 left. That sparked a 13-2 run by the Blue Devils that began to put the game out of reach.

Ashlon Jackson scored 13 points and Taina Mair added 11 for the Blue Devils (22-11), who move on to Portland, Oregon to play next weekend against the winner of Syracuse and UConn.

"We're super proud, just how the team played today," said Richardson, who averaged 11.9 points per game during the season. "I think we were down by 16, and we didn't let it faze us. We stayed with each other and we were able to climb back."

Duke's upset win was only the second time in the tournament that a lower-seeded team had won. The better seeds were 31-1 in the opening round.

Cotie McMahon paced the Buckeyes (26-6) with 27 points. Most of those were in the paint. Ohio State attempted just nine 3-pointers in the game and didn't make one until there were 12.2 seconds left in the game.

Celeste Taylor, who transferred to Ohio State from Duke before the season, scored just six points before fouling out with 6:38 left in the game.

"They played better," Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said. "They deserved to win. We didn't play well today."

Ohio State's pressing defense caused problems for Duke early as the Buckeyes built a 16-point lead. But the Blue Devils came roaring back. A 12-2 run cut the Buckeyes lead to 36-32 at halftime.

"These guys never flinched," Duke coach Kara Lawson said. "In the huddles, they were locked in. They kept their belief, even though it felt like we were getting run out of the gym at the beginning of the game. Possession by possession we worked our way back."


North Carolina's season came to a humiliating end at the hands of No. 1 overall seed and unbeaten South Carolina.

Freshmen MiLaysia Fulwiley and Tessa Johnson grabbed the opportunity to lead the way for South Carolina, with Fulwiley scoring 20 points, and Johnson 11, and the pair combined for seven of the top-seeded Gamecocks' nine 3-pointers in an 88-41 win over No. 8 seed North Carolina on Sunday.

The Gamecocks advanced to their 10th straight Sweet 16.

"They see themselves as being integral parts of our success," South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. "And they didn't back down from it."

Kamilla Cardoso had 12 points and 10 rebounds in her return from a one-game suspension after she was ejected for fighting during the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game two weeks ago. The 6-foot-7 center missed her team's March Madness opener against Presbyterian on Friday.

Fulwiley, the SEC Tournament MVP, and Johnson fueled a first-quarter surge for South Carolina (34-0) that quickly turned the game into a runaway. Fulwiley started it with a behind-the-back layup before Johnson made consecutive rainbow 3s. Fulwiley added another 3-pointer as part of a 43-11 run that gave the Gamecocks a 56-19 lead at the break.

Fulwiley knows she's among the most promising young players in the game along with Southern California's JuJu Watkins, Notre Dame's Hannah Hidalgo and Texas' Madison Booker. But Fulwiley's bigger priority is blending in with her talented Gamecocks teammates.

"I think this team, we do a great job of just playing for each other," she said. "I think we don't play for the fans and all the other extra stuff. I think everything we do out on the court is for each other."

South Carolina will carry that bond into the Sweet 16 to face No. 4 seed Indiana or No. 5 seed Oklahoma on Friday in the Albany 1 Region.

The Gamecocks, at full strength and playing like their potent selves, were too much for the Tar Heels, who had lost by single digits in the teams' previous two meetings, most recently on Nov. 30.

Chloe Kitts, a South Carolina sophomore who hit all nine of her field goals for 21 points in the first round, scored 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting in the first half of this one. She finished with 12 points and has made 13 of 14 shots in the tournament.

North Carolina got no closer than 31 points in the final two quarters. Maria Gadkeng, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds in Friday's win over Michigan State, picked up three first-half fouls. Alyssa Ustby led North Carolina with 12 points.

Leading scorer Deja Kelly had two fouls and five of the Tar Heels' 11 first-half turnovers. She was held to seven points on 2-of-13 shooting.

"I felt like I had two people on me at all times," Kelly said.

North Carolina was held to the fewest points in its 81-game NCAA tournament history. The Tar Heels' previous low was a 55-46 loss to George Washington at the old Carolina Coliseum in Columbia 27 years ago.

The Gamecocks extended their program record with their 59th straight win at home in their final game of the season at Colonial Life Arena, where they averaged an NCAA-best 16,489 fans.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.