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Mar 31, 2024 7:29 pm

Aziaha James, NC State top Texas to reach Final Four

aziaha james

PORTLAND, Ore. — Aziaha James poured in 27 points and North Carolina State led most of the way in a 76-66 victory over Texas on Sunday in the Portland 4 Region final.

River Baldwin added 16 points — all in the second half — as the third-seeded Wolfpack (31-6) wrote themselves a ticket to next week’s Final Four in Cleveland. Saniya Rivers tallied 11 points, five rebounds and five assists and Mimi Collins and Zoe Brooks each scored 10 points.

North Carolina State won the game at the 3-point line, sinking 9 of 18 shots from beyond the arc while the Longhorns went 1-for-6. The Wolfpack also had a decided edge in free throws, making 19 of 25 attempts to 7 of 11 for Texas.

James was honored as the Portland 4 Region’s Most Outstanding Player. In Sunday’s Elite Eight contest, James connected on 9 of 17 shots from the field, including 7 of 9 from 3-point range. She scored 29 points in North Carolina State’s 77-67 win over Stanford in Friday’s regional semifinal.

“Aziaha stepped up big-time in both of these games,” Wolfpack coach Wes Moore said. “She worked so hard last summer. She used to hang her head when her shots didn’t go in. Now she’s a woman. She handles adversity and keeps coming back.”

James was 5-for-5 from 3-point range and 7-for-10 from the field in the first half.

“My confidence was going up as the shots were going in,” she said. “They (were) just hitting for me, so I kept shooting.”

Madison Booker’s 17 points led top-seeded Texas, which finished the season at 33-5.

Texas took 20 more shots from the field than North Carolina State but shot only 39.7 percent (29-for-73). The Wolfpack made 24 of 53 attempts (45.3 percent). Booker, the Big 12 Conference Co-Player of the Year, struggled to an 8-for-21 showing from the floor.

James went for 21 points prior to the break, and North Carolina State built an 18-point first-half lead before settling for a 43-31 advantage heading into intermission. Texas made only 14 of 41 shots overall (34.1 percent) in the period. Booker was 4-for-13.

“NC State was good today,” Texas coach Vic Schaefer said Sunday. “James played well that first half and was ready to go. Their whole crew played well.

“It wasn’t our day. We struggled guarding them in the first half. We take great pride in being tough. Today we weren’t as tough as we’ve been in the past. It happens sometimes in athletics. It’s probably the worst we’ve played the past two months.”

The Longhorns closed within 45-35 early in the third quarter. North Carolina State’s lead was 51-37 when Texas used a 7-0 run to make it 51-44. A trey by James — her first points of the second half — sent the Wolfpack into the final period with a 57-48 edge.

Booker converted a three-point play to draw Texas within 63-55 with 5:50 remaining. Taylor Jones got the Longhorns closer with another three-point play to make it 65-58 with 4:41 to play. James sank a 3 to push North Carolina State to a 68-58 lead, but Jones’ jumper cut it to 68-60 with 3:24 to go.

Baldwin hit two free throws to make it 70-60. Jones did the same at the other end, and it was 70-62 with 2:09 left. Baldwin’s jump shot gave the Wolfpack a 72-62 advantage, but Booker’s putback trimmed the difference to 72-64 with 1:32 remaining. When Baldwin knocked down a pair of shots at the free-throw line for a 74-64 lead with 1:01 on the clock, it was all over.

Texas guard Shaylee Gonzales went scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting before fouling out late in the game.

With James scoring 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting, North Carolina State took a 19-14 lead after one quarter. Texas made only 7 of 22 shots in the frame.

James buried two 3-pointers and Collins a third to jack the Wolfpack’s lead to 34-20 midway through the second quarter. Moments later, James converted from beyond the arc once again. Brooks followed with a layup and James added a free throw to complete a 17-2 run and make it 40-22 late in the quarter.

–Kerry Eggers, Field Level Media

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