No surprises at ACC Women’s Tourn

N.C. teams finish about where expected, now await NCAA selections ‌

Notre Dame players celebrate as NC State leaves the floor following the ACC Championship Game in Greensboro (AP Photo/Chuck Burton) ‌

The ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament came to a close Sunday afternoon with the No. 4 Notre Dame Fighting Irish knocking off the No. 2 NC State Wolfpack to claim their first title since 2019.

Entering the tournament, the four North Carolina teams ran the spectrum from the top of the conference to the bottom and in the end, that’s about where they shook out too.

No. 14 Wake Forest

Despite entering the tournament as the second worst team, the Deacons pulled off a surprising 58-55 win over No. 11 Virginia in their first round matchup on Wednesday.

Junior guard Elise Williams willed Wake to victory as she went off for 25 points and nine rebounds in the win, but that was as far she could take the team, as the Demon Deacons lost to No. 6 FSU 70-53 in the following round.

Wake Forest has now won at least one game in each of the last five tourneys and perhaps that’s something that new coach Megan Gebbia can build off of whether that’s into next season or later this month in the WNIT.

No. 8 UNC

The Tar Heels were the lone North Carolina team to not pick up a single win at the ACC Tournament this year, losing their first game 60-59 to No. 9 Miami.

Despite the star power of senior guards Deja Kelly and Alyssa Ustby, UNC couldn’t find enough scoring down the stretch as Miami overcame a 14-point deficit to knock off the Heels.

A big issue for the Heels was off the glass as Miami outrebounded them 41-32, with Ustby only managing to grab four boards.

UNC has the talent to make a run, but the consistent struggle to close out games this season has cost them on more than a few occasions.

No. 7 Duke

The Duke Blue Devils cruised through their second-round matchup, crushing No. 10 Georgia Tech 70-58 before nearly pulling off the upset against No. 2 NC State in the quarterfinals.

Despite ultimately losing 54-51 to the Pack, the Blue Devils gave NC State a run for their money and if not for a scoreless five-minute stretch at the end, they might have been the ones moving on.

Despite the offensive struggles, the strong team defense that they relied on all season was present and it could bode well for them if they make the NCAA Tournament.

Duke also has to like what they’ve seen from their promising freshman guard, Oluchi Okananwa, who led the team in scoring in both of their tournament games despite coming off the bench.

No. 2 NC State

The Wolfpack was minutes away from its fourth ACC title in just the last five seasons, but the same issues that have plagued them all season, namely sudden and prolific cold spells, reared back up.

The Pack made just one basket in their last nine shots of the game, losing to No. 4 Notre Dame 55-51 in the Championship match Sunday afternoon.

Those same shooting troubles almost cost them in their first game of the tournament against Duke, but then they dominated FSU in the Semifinals, winning 69-43.

The Wolfpack probably would have been the No. 1 seed this season had it not been for these prolific shooting spells, but it’s an issue they have to hope they can limit in the coming weeks.

What’s promising for NC State though is that they have all the pieces to be great. Graduate center River Baldwin seems to be all the way back from her ankle injury and the junior guard combo of Aziaha James and Saniya Rivers can take over games.

It’s just a matter of not letting those droughts snowball out of control.

New Favorite Emerges

The Fighting Irish won their first tourney since 2019 and did it through a difficult bracket, having to knock off Louisville, Virginia Tech and NC State in succession.

Notre Dame, nationally ranked No. 14, has been a consistent threat all season and it seems like things are starting to really fall into place for the Irish.

Freshman guard Hannah Hidalgo has been a game breaker and her 23.3 points per game average is third in women’s college basketball. Add in some veteran presence around her in the likes of Sonia Citron and Maddy Westbald, who both have averaged over 14 points and five rebounds a game and you have a potent top three.

The ACC is a deep conference, and we could very easily see a few teams from it making some deep runs in the NCAA Tournament later this month, especially if Virginia Tech can get back three-time ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley, who did not suit up for the ACC Tournament due to a knee injury.