Perez’s late basket helps NC State win 66-63 over the Irishman


Raina Perez’s steal in the middle of the court and layup with 14 seconds left gave top-seeded NC State a 66-63 win over fifth-seeded Notre Dame on Saturday in the semifinals of the Bridgeport area.

This is 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 that and knew I could do it,” Perez said of the free throws. I’m so glad I knocked them down.

The Wolfpack had reached 63-62 when Elissa Cunane made the first of two free throws with 36 seconds left. After a Notre Dame timeout, the Irish won the ball in the backcourt and Dara Mabrey was stripped near midfield by Perez, who took it for the lay-up and header.

NC State (32-3) advanced to the regional final on 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 February 1. It was NC State’s most recent loss this season.

“It’s a bump we had to get over and the girls are determined and I’m determined and we did it.” declared Crutchfield to have reached the regional final.

Olivia Miles scored 21 points and Westbeld added 13 for the Irish (24-9).

Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey has brought the Irish back to the country’s elite women’s basketball teams for his second season as head coach. The Irish missed the NCAA last year for the first time since 1995.

The Wolfpack got off to a good start and were leading 16-12 after one quarter before the Irish got behind rookie Miles. She and fellow freshman Sonia Citron scored seven straight for the Irish to open a 36-26 lead. The Wolfpack trailed 38-30 at halftime. The lead remained around eight for most of the third quarter before NC State’s rally.

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame: The Irish are a very young team and are once again becoming one of the best teams in the country.

NC State: The Wolfpack struggled for most of the game, but eventually found a way to win and reach the Elite Eight with a senior-led team.

HOW THEY ARRIVED

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

NC State: The Wolfpack routed Longwood and Kansas State to move to the Sweet 16.

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More AP coverage of March Madness: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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