Perez’s late basket lifts NC State to 66-63 win over Irish

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Raina Perez’s steal at midcourt and layup with 14 seconds left lifted top-seeded N.C. State to a 66-63 win over fifth-seed Notre Dame on Saturday in the Bridgeport Region semifinals.

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

Trailing 59-51 early in the fourth quarter, the Wolfpack rallied, scoring 15 of the final 19 points capped by Perez’s layup. The Irish had one last chance, but Maddy Westbeld missed a 3-pointer from the wing and Perez hit both free throws for the final margin.

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

The Wolfpack had gotten within 63-62 when Elissa Cunane made the first of two free throws with 36 seconds left. After a Notre Dame timeout, the Irish got the ball inbounds in the backcourt and Dara Mabrey was stripped near midcourt by Perez, who took it in for the layup and the lead.

N.C. State (32-3) advanced to the regional final Monday night where it will face either second-seeded UConn or No. 3 Indiana.

Cunane scored 16 points and Kai Crutchfield added 14 for the Wolfpack, who avenged an earlier loss to the Irish on Feb. 1. That was N.C. State’s most recent loss of the season.

“It’s a hump we had to get over and the girls are determined and I’m 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).

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

The Wolfpack got off to a decent start and led 16-12 after one quarter before the Irish got going behind their freshman Miles. She and fellow first-year player Sonia Citron scored seven straight for the Irish to open up a 36-26 lead. The Wolfpack trailed 38-30 at the half. The lead stayed around eight for most of the third quarter before the rally by N.C. State.

BIG PICTURE

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

N.C. State: The Wolfpack struggled most of the game, but found a way to win in the end and reach the Elite Eight with a senior-led squad.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

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

N.C. State: The Wolfpack routed both Longwood and Kansas State to advance to the Sweet 16.