It looked like NC State was going to have to foul because it was down one and the game clock and shot clock were nearly the same. But Cal State Fullerton transfer Raina Perez, who has been a huge part of NC State’s back-to-back No. 1 seeds the past two seasons, made about as clean a steal as you can make from behind Dara Mabrey just in the nick of time and converted it into a lead-changing layup on the other end with 14.8 seconds remaining.
Perez went on to rebound a missed three from Maddy Westbeld and made two free throws with one second left to push the Wolfpack lead to three. Notre Dame freshman Sonia Citron couldn’t get a three-quarters court shot off before the buzzer and the No. 1 seed Wolfpack erased the demons of three straight losses in the Sweet Sixteen with a 66-63 win over the No. 5 seed Saturday at Total Mortgage Arena in Bridgeport, Conn.
Kai Crutchfield kept NC State in the game with clutch basket after clutch basket, but it seemed like Notre Dame freshman Olivia Miles (21 points, six rebounds, six assists) was going to be too much. A deep two from Crutchfield cut it to two with 2:13 to go. Miles then answered with a layup before Kayla Jones again cut it to two with a layup of her own. Then, the Wolfpack finally got a reprieve from Miles, who missed a three. The face of the NC State program, Elissa Cunane, missed a free throw that would have tied with with 36 ticks left, but Perez saved the day.
Cunane finished with a 16-point, 10-rebound double-double.
Crutchfield (14 points, four steals) made a three late in the third that cut NC State’s deficit to five. She then turned a midcourt steal into a 3-point play in transition to cut it to two 1:24 into the fourth. Notre Dame responded with a 6-0 run, but the Wolfpack defense was not done wreaking havoc. Another Crutchfield steal and layup cut it to 59-53 and yet another steal by the team, this time in the backcourt, bridged two 2-of-2 Elissa Cunane trips to the line, which cut it to 59-57.
Miles’ hot 3-point shooting in the first half opened up some passing opportunities after halftime. She made a wild layup over her body to open the third and make it 40-30 Notre Dame and later drew a defender out by thinking about a three before making a nice pass to Westbeld for a layup that made it 44-38.
NC State stayed in the game with key threes. During an 18-6 run by Notre Dame in the second quarter, triples from Diamond Johnson and Perez accounted for the Wolfpack points. Then, when the Irish came out clicking in the third, Jones and Crutchfield both had answers from deep, which allowed the Wolfpack to outscore the Irish 6-5 through the first 2:18 of the frame.
Down 20-18 with 7:55 to go in the second, Notre Dame went on its 18-6 run to open up its largest lead of the first half at 36-26. Mabrey opened the run with a three and then Miles took over with eight points during the stretch.
The game was back-and-forth before that Irish run. Notre Dame led 7-3 before a 7-0 NC State run that featured five points from Cunane. The Wolfpack went on to lead 16-12, but couldn’t pull away.