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Aziaha James scores 27, leads NC State to 76-66 win over Texas, first women’s Final Four since 1998

NC State Aziaha James

PORTLAND, OREGON - MARCH 31: Aziaha James #10 of the NC State Wolfpack and Mimi Collins #2 of the NC State Wolfpack reacts after a play during the first half against the Texas Longhorns in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament at Moda Center on March 31, 2024 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images)

(Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images)

PORTLAND, Ore. — Aziaha James made a career-high seven 3-poiners and scored 27 points, and third-seeded North Carolina State earned its first trip to the Final Four of the women’s NCAA Tournament since 1998, beating top-seeded Texas 76-66 on Sunday in a game played with 3-point lines at different distances on opposite ends of the court.

River Baldwin added 16 points for N.C. State (31-6), which will face unbeaten South Carolina in the national semifinals in Cleveland on Saturday. The Gamecocks beat Oregon State in Albany, New York, earlier Sunday.

Madison Booker, one of the top freshmen in the country along with Southern California’s JuJu Watkins, finished with 17 points to lead the Longhorns (33-5), who were vying for their first Final Four since 2003.

Before the Portland 4 Region final, Texas coach Vic Schaefer and N.C. State’s Wes Moore conferred with officials about a visible difference between the 3-point lines.

The NCAA acknowledged a discrepancy but said both coaches agreed to play on. Four previous games in Portland were played without anyone saying anything publicly about the issue. The court will be corrected before Monday’s Elite Eight game between USC and UConn, the NCAA said.

No matter how far away the arc was, it didn’t bother James, who finished 7 of 9 on 3s.

N.C. State led by 18 points in the first half, but Texas closed within 54-48 on Deyona Gaston’s jumper late in the third quarter. James answered with a 3 to put the Wolfpack ahead by nine heading into the final period.

Booker’s three-point play moved Texas within 63-55. The Longhorns kept up their pressure with Taylor Jones’ three-point play to narrow the gap to 65-58 with 4:41 to go. Another 3 by James kept Texas at bay.

Baldwin’s jumper that made it 72-62 with 1:50 left all but sealed it for the Wolfpack. With 28 seconds left, James walked into a timeout with her arms raised to elicit cheers from the fans behind the bench.

The Wolfpack’s last Elite Eight appearance in 2022 ended with a double-overtime loss to UConn. N.C. State was stopped by Louisiana Tech in its only previous Final Four appearance.

Texas won its lone national title in 1986, going 34-0. But it’s been 21 years since legendary coach Jody Conradt took the team to its last Final Four.

James scored 10 points in the first quarter and N.C. State took an early 19-14 lead. The Wolfpack ultimately pushed ahead 40-22.

Gisella Maul made a 3 for Texas at the halftime buzzer to close the Longhorns’ deficit to 43-31.