NC State women fall in Final 4

North Carolina State guard Aziaha James (10) reacts with head coach Wes Moore at the end of a Final Four college basketball game against South Carolina in the women's NCAA Tournament, Friday, April 5, 2024, in Cleveland. South Carolina won 78-59. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

The North Carolina State women’s basketball team’s season came to a close Friday night at the hands of the South Carolina Gamecocks, the eventual NCAA champions.

It was a tremendous run for the Pack who made the Final Four for the first time since 1998 and the second time in program history.

Despite a down year last season and a few big losses this year, the Wolfpack proved they belong among the top programs in the nation.

“We used the doubts and being underestimated as motivation,” said River Baldwin. “I mean playing Notre Dame in the ACC championship, losing to Virginia Tech twice, just using that all as motivation and watching the film, fixing what we could fix and just moving on to the next play, the next game fueled us.”

En route to the Final Four, the Wolfpack defeated the SEC Tournament runner-up Tennessee, as well as two top-5 ranked teams in Stanford and Texas by double digits before running into the buzzsaw that was the Gamecocks.

“We’ve had an unbelievable season,” said NC State coach Wes Moore. “I’m proud of these young ladies for the run we’ve been on. It just stinks to end it this way, but I’m sure that after we’ve had a little bit of time away from it and we can reflect. We’ll see that we have a lot to be proud of.”

Early on, NC State ran with South Carolina, who ended up with a perfect 38-0 season. At the end of two quarters, the Wolfpack was only down by one point.

But coming out of the half, the Gamecocks found another gear that the Pack just couldn’t match.

NC State was outscored 29-6 in the third quarter. Despite regaining its composure in the fourth quarter, it was too little too late.

“They just punched us in the mouth in the third quarter,” said Aziaha James. “I just felt like in the third quarter, we didn’t come out of the locker room how we were supposed to come out of the locker room. I felt like we could have fought harder. Like we hung our heads and got into our heads mentally. As a leader, I want to fault myself because I could have helped, said more.”

“I felt like this was the best South Carolina team they’ve had,” Moore said. “Obviously the presence of  Kamilla Cardoso on the block is tough to match up with and then they have so many players that are capable of knocking down 3-point shots. Unfortunately that’s kind of what happened in the second half.”

Despite the loss, there’s still a lot for the Pack to be proud of from their historic season.

“I’ve been here for three years and I see a major difference on this team,” James said. “I feel like it’s a player-led team. We stick together on and off the court. You see the enjoyment, the chemistry we have. There’s never a dull moment between these girls. They’re not just my teammates, these are my sisters. I’m gonna keep this memory forever. I’ll love this group of girls forever. These are my sisters and I’m so proud of them and how hard we worked to get here. We left everything on the court each game and I’m so grateful to have them and to have Coach Moore.”

NC State will have to maneuver some big losses, namely Mimi Collins and River Baldwin, but the core of Aziaha James, Saniya Rivers and Zoe Brooks could all return for another run under Moore next season.

“The bond with this team, I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” James said. “As a senior next year, I’m still going to emphasize that the same way. We’re going to be a sisterhood. We’re going to have that solid chemistry on and off the court. It’s going to be even stronger.”

“It’s a great experience and hopefully we can draw from this,” Moore said. “I thought the last three weeks, our practices were unbelievable. Our energy, our focus, we were locked in and I told them today, ‘Hey, next year, let’s try to do that from day one.” But it’s going to help. This has been an unbelievable experience. I’ve been a head coach for 35 years in college and it was my first time being on this stage. It’s unbelievable and a great experience and hopefully it makes you hungry to want to get back and take another shot at it.”