NC State upsets Texas to advance to Final Four


After the NC State Wolfpack upset Stanford in the Sweet 16, coach Wes Moore arrived at the postgame news conference drenched with slick-back hair and said, “Just call me Elvis.”

At the end of his off-day media availability 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 the majority of the first quarter. But they took control of the game with a 6-0 run near the end of the period, capped off by — you guessed it — a 3-point jumper from Aziaha James and never looked back in a 76-66 victory.

“A flood of emotions and thoughts,” Moore said. “I think of Kay Yow, 34 years at NC State, and took this program to a Final Four in ’98. I think of the players two years ago that were a double-overtime game away from being in this exact spot. So I think of them. And then I think of these players, again, overcoming all the doubts and questions and just — Final Four, y’all.

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

The Wolfpack advance to face No. 1 overall seed South Carolina in the national semifinals Friday. The two teams last met in the 2021-22 season opener, 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 their first appearance since 1998. Moore makes it to the national semifinals for the first time as part of a Division I program, as his prior appearance in the final weekend also came in 1998, but as the head coach of Division II Francis Marion.

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

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

“She’s really good off the bounce, so it wasn’t like you could give her one thing,” Shay Holle said about defending James. “It’s not like she played out of her mind, because she’s more than capable.”

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

Multiple 3-pointers also came in transition, as the Longhorns couldn’t keep up with NC State’s speed in the open court. The trio of Rivers, James and Brooks completed a number of fast-break highlights for 16 first-half transition points, pushing the pace to overcome their Texas’ size in in the half court. The Wolfpack were outrebounded by 13, but they had fewer turnovers and shot more efficiently from the field to maintain their advantage.

“We’re unstoppable when it comes to transition, as Coach Moore says,” James said postgame. “That was our go-to every time, and it was just working good for us.”

When the pace slowed in the second half and the Longhorns ran James off the 3-point line, River Baldwin was able to win her matchup in the paint. She had 12 points on perfect shooting in the fourth quarter, playing as many minutes in the final period as she did in the first off. Baldwin was effective posting up in isolation or catching dump-off passes from her driving guards.

NC State is at its best when it can increase the tempo, but Baldwin was a useful safety valve during slower stretches. Her 16 points were tied for her third-highest scoring total this season.

“Whenever you get in early foul trouble like that, it’s easy to check out,” Baldwin said. “Staying locked in mentally and knowing that when your time comes and you hit the court again, you need to step up for your teammates and not be caught up in whatever’s going on in your own head.”

NC State is the only program remaining in the NCAA Tournament that has never played in a national championship game, which now becomes the latest 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 victories if they keep this ride going until the final day of the season.

They’ve been counted out all season — unranked in the AP poll to start and projected to finish eighth in the ACC. Instead, they’ve outperformed 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 great day for NC State basketball.

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(Photo: Soobum Im / Getty Images)

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