NC State upsets Texas and advances to second Final Four in program history

After the NC State Wolfpack defeated Stanford in the Sweet 16, coach Wes Moore arrived at the postgame press conference soaking wet with his hair slicked back and said, “Just call me Elvis.”

At the end of his media day off Saturday, Moore reiterated, “Hopefully Elvis will make another appearance tomorrow.”

The good news for NC State? Elvis has not left the building.

The Wolfpack trailed 4-0 in the opening minutes and traded the lead with Texas for most of the first quarter. But they took control of the game with a 6-0 run near the end of the period, capped by (you guessed it) a three-pointer from Aziaha James, and never looked back in a 76-66 victory.

“A flood of emotions and thoughts,” Moore said. “I think about Kay Yow, 34 years at NC State, and she led this program to a Final Four in 1998. I think about the players from two years ago who were one double overtime away from being in this exact spot. Then I think about them. And then I think about these players, again, overcoming all the doubts and questions and just: Final Four, all of you.

“I mean, this is my 35th year as a head coach and it’s amazing.”

The Wolfpack advances to face No. 1 seed South Carolina in the national semifinals on Friday. The two teams last met in the opener of the 2021-22 season, when the Gamecocks won 66-57 en route to their program’s second national title.

It is the Wolfpack’s second trip to the Final Four in program history and its first appearance since 1998. Moore reaches the national semifinals for the first time as part of a Division I program, since its previous appearance last weekend. of the week also occurred in 1998, but as Division II head coach Francis Marion.

As was the case this season, the 1998 Wolfpack team was unranked in the preseason before reaching the Final Four. This 2024 version of NC State is now the seventh team to make the jump from unranked semifinals to national semifinals, and the first since Washington in 2016.

The Wolfpack came in behind James, who followed up his 25 second-half points against Stanford with 21 in the first half against the Longhorns, including a sizzling 5-for-5 from the 3-point line. Backcourt teammates Saniya Rivers and Zoe Brooks were able to repeatedly outrun their defenders off the dribble and kick to James beyond the arc, where the junior did not disappoint. He finished with a program-record seven 3-pointers in an NCAA Tournament game.

“She’s really good off the rebound, so it wasn’t like you could give her anything,” Shay Holle said of James’ defense. “She’s not like she’s crazy, because she’s more than capable.”

“(James) is a really good player and she was outstanding today,” Texas coach Vic Schaefer said.

Multiple 3-pointers also occurred in transition, as the Longhorns were unable to keep up with NC State’s speed in the open court. The trio of Rivers, James and Brooks completed a series of highlight-reel plays on fast breaks for 16 transition points in the first half, picking up the pace to overcome Texas’ size in the halfcourt. The Wolfpack led by 13, but had fewer turnovers and shot more efficiently from the field to maintain their lead.

“We’re unstoppable when it comes to transition, like Coach Moore says,” James said after the game. “That was our option all along and it worked well for us.”

When the pace slowed in the second half and the Longhorns pulled James from the 3-point line, River Baldwin was able to win their matchup in the paint. He scored 12 points on perfect shooting in the fourth quarter, playing as many minutes in the fourth quarter as he did in the first half. Baldwin was effectively betting in isolation or receiving passes from his driving guards.

NC State is at its best when it can pick up the pace, but Baldwin was a helpful safety valve during the slower stretches. His 16 points tied his third-highest total this season.

“Anytime you get into early foul trouble like that, it’s easy to check,” Baldwin said. “Stay locked in mentally and know that when your time comes and you get back on the court, you have to step up for your teammates and not get caught up in whatever is going on in your own head.”

NC State is the only program left in the NCAA Tournament that has never played in a national championship, which now becomes the final hurdle to overcome in what has been a historic season for the Wolfpack. They have won the second-most games in school history and could tie the 2021-22 team with 32 wins if they keep it up until the final day of the season.

They’ve been shut out all season: They were unranked in the AP Poll to start and are projected to finish eighth in the ACC. Instead, they have exceeded expectations to get to this point, upsetting their last two opponents and showing no signs of slowing down.

After their men’s team joined them in advancing to the Final Four on Sunday, it’s a big day for NC State basketball.

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(Photo: Soobum Im/Getty Images)