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James, Rivers help No. 3 seed NC State hold off No. 6 seed Tennessee to reach Sweet 16


RALEIGH, N,C, -- — Aziaha James scored 22 points and No. 3 seed North Carolina State blew nearly all of a 20-point lead before holding off No. 6 seed Tennessee 79-72 in Monday's second round of the NCAA Tournament, sending the Wolfpack back to the Sweet 16.

Saniya Rivers added 20 points for the Wolfpack (29-6), who dominated the second quarter to build that huge margin before the Lady Vols (20-13) started creeping their way back.

Tennessee got as close as two points in the fourth, but N.C. State did just enough to protect its lead. That sent the Wolfpack on to a date with No. 2 seed Stanford in the Portland 4 Region.

James came up big in the critical moment amid the Lady Vols' surge. First the 5-foot-9 junior scored on a floater over the outstreched arms of 6-6 post Tamari Key. Then, after Baldwin blocked a shot from Rickea Jackson from behind, James curled around the left wing to catch and feed from Saniya Rivers and stick a huge 3-pointer for a 70-63 lead at the 2:48 mark.

Tennessee didn't get it back to a one-possession game again.

Jackson had 33 points and 10 rebounds to lead Tennessee, which was trying for its third straight trip to the regional semifinals. And the Lady Vols flirted with tying the second-biggest comeback in women’s tournament history, fighting back to within a single bucket with about 4 minutes left.

N.C. State appeared on its way with a strong finish to the first quarter and an absolutely dominant second. After trailing 23-17 early, N.C. State outscored Tennessee 32-8 for the rest of the half — including a 16-2 burst that carried right into the locker room with reserve Maddie Cox’s catch-and-fire corner 3 giving the Wolfpack an 18-point margin.

Mimi Collins scored in the first minute of the third quarter, pushing N.C. State to its biggest lead at 51-31 before the Lady Vols started the long climb back.

The game marked the first meeting between the programs, as well as deeply intertwined sidelined connections. There was Lady Vols coach Kellie Harper facing off against a program she led for four years in the difficult aftermath of the passing of late Hall of Famer Kay Yow.. There was also coaching against Wolfpack coach Wes Moore after working on his staff at Chattanooga.


Tennessee: The Lady Vols opened the year ranked No. 11, but fell out of the AP Top 25 after Thanksgiving and didn’t return. Their near-misses included falling to top-ranked and unbeaten South Carolina on a banked-in 3-pointer at the buzzer after rallying from 23 down to take a late lead in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. There’s no questioning in the fight after another comeback Monday, though Tennessee ultimately fell short again.

N.C. State: The Wolfpack took the opposite trajectory from the Lady Vols, going from unranked in preseason to No. 3 by early December after nonconference wins against Connecticut and Colorado. Now Moore’s club is heading to a fifth Sweet 16 in six tournaments, including a run to the Elite Eight in 2022.


The Cardinals awaits the Wolfpack – in what will be an Atlantic Coast Conference pairing with next year's realignment — on Friday in Portland, Oregon.


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