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  • Writer's pictureKate Stiger

Unranked to Unforgettable: NC State’s Historic Road To The Final Four

When the 2023-24 college basketball season was getting started, NC State was not high on anyone's radar. They were unranked and projected to finish 8th in the ACC, with none of their players on the Preseason All-ACC Team. Expectations were low for the Wolfpack at that point. 

That all changed very quickly in November.

Victory Over UConn

On November 12, the UConn Huskies traveled to Raleigh for a preseason game against NC State. With the game nationally televised on ABC, No. 2 ranked UConn was heavily favored to win and most people watching probably thought so too, but not the Wolfpack. 

NC State was down 25-16 after the first quarter but outscored UConn in every quarter the rest of the game, resulting in a 92-81 statement win. Junior guard Saniya Rivers finished with a double-double of 33 points and 10 rebounds, leading the way as the highest scorer of the game. 

After the victory, NC State shot up to No. 14 in the rankings and showed no signs of slowing down. 

Winning Ways

With their confidence and rankings boosted, NC State started the season on fire with a 14-game winning streak. In addition to their win over UConn, the Wolfpack also beat No. 3 Colorado and No. 22 Florida State during that stretch. 

By the Week 9 rankings, NC State was ranked the No. 3 team in the country and they were one of the few undefeated teams remaining. 

During this winning streak, the Wolfpack were scoring an average of 79.7 points per game and outscoring their opponents by 21.7 points per game. 

Rise in the ACC

With successful non-conference games under their belt, NC State was ready for its conference schedule. Some of the best teams in the country play in the ACC, so getting wins is no easy task for any team. 

NC State finished the regular season with five losses, with all but one coming from teams that would eventually make the NCAA tournament. They finished the season ranked No. 2 in the ACC behind Virginia Tech, much higher than their preseason prediction. 

In the ACC tournament, NC State made it to the championship game by defeating Duke and Florida State. The Wolfpack would ultimately fall by four points to Notre Dame in the final, but the deep tournament run was a sign of what was to come in the NCAA tournament. 

March Madness Magic 

As a No. 3 seed, NC State made their presence felt from the start. They got off to a hot start in front of their home crowd in Raleigh, beating Chattanooga by 19 points and taking down Tennesee 79-72 in the first two rounds. 

In the Portland region, they faced the No. 2 seed Stanford Cardinal and showed no fear against one of the most decorated programs in the country. An explosive second half on both offense and defense propelled the Wolfpack to an upset win in which Aziaha James led all scorers with 29 points. 

They once again took care of business in the Elite Eight and beat the No. 1 seed Texas Longhorns. Five players scored in double figures and James took charge again by scoring 27 points and knocking down 7 three-pointers. She was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Portland 4 Region.  

Although they were picked as underdogs for most of their tournament games, NC State proved that they are one of the top teams in the country. They have an elite group of guard players and size in the post, both of which can score while shutting opposing teams down. 

Final Four

For the first time since 1998, NC State got back to the biggest stage in college basketball. It was a monumental moment for a team that worked incredibly hard all season and proved to everyone that they belong. 

While they were excited to be in Cleveland, they were up against their biggest challenge of the season - South Carolina. The Gamecocks had an undefeated season and proved to be too much for any team in the country to handle. 

Although the Wolfpack were only down by 1 point at halftime, a third-quarter surge by South Carolina was too large for NC State to try to come back from and they ended their season on a 79-59 loss. 

Even with the disappointing ending, players and coaches for NC State expressed how much they enjoyed their journey all season and to the Final Four. They showed the country what they are capable of and will be hungry for more next year. 


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