College basketball is giving viewers must-see matchups to finish 2023 on a high note.

Conference play is in full swing and every game counts. This weekend’s action is full of battles between ranked teams and matchups we could see again come March and April.

Here are the top five NCAA women’s basketball games of the weekend, in order of schedule.

No. 10 Baylor @ No. 5 Texas

These undefeated Texas teams have been putting on a show early in the 2023-24 season. The Longhorns have put up five 100-point games in their 13 games played, while the Bears have posted two.

Both Baylor (11-0) and Texas (13-0) have beaten fearsome opponents, but Baylor’s ranked victories stand out. The Bears have taken down then-No. 4 Utah and then-No. 24 Miami. The Longhorns beat UConn on Dec. 3 at the Jimmy V Classic but have not faced a ranked opponent since then.

Both teams enter this matchup with confidence after significant wins in their most recent games. Texas almost doubled their previous opponent in scoring, beating Jackson State, 97-52, and Baylor topped South Florida, 73-50. With such high rates of offensive production between these Big 12 rivals, it could be anyone’s game.

2 p.m. ET Saturday — FOX

No. 12 Utah @ No. 8 Colorado

These Pac-12 teams have been mainstays in the AP Top 25 all season, and this matchup should reflect that. Four Buffaloes average double-digits in scoring, and they are overall a higher-scoring team than the Utes. But Utah’s Alissa Pili is a force to be reckoned with.

Utah (10-2) presented undefeated No. 1 South Carolina with its toughest challenge of the season so far. A high-scoring outing from Pili and a quality defensive showing like the Utes’ matchup with the Gamecocks could lift them over Colorado (10-1). But they have to get through the Buffaloes’ freshman trio of Frida Formann, Aaronette Vonleh and Jaylyn Sherrod first.

3 p.m. ET Saturday — Pac-12 Network

No. 6 USC @ No. 2 UCLA

Both USC (10-0) and UCLA (11-0) have steamrolled their way through the early season. Both squads are undefeated, and both are putting up high numbers on the scoreboard.

The Bruins have played a notably tougher schedule than the Trojans — UCLA has topped three ranked opponents since the season began, while USC has faced just one ranked team. But that hasn’t stopped the Trojans from winning in style.

USC freshman JuJu Watkins ranks second in the NCAA in average points per game. She puts up an astronomical 26.8 points per game, and she leads her team in assists and steals as well. But the Bruins starting five all average double-digit scoring, with Lauren Betts and Charisma Osborne averaging 16.9 and 14.5 points per game, respectively. This southern California rivalry will bring the offensive power that viewers crave from young rising talent and veteran players.

8 p.m. ET Saturday — Pac-12 Network

UConn is finding its footing after a shaky start to the season. (G Fiume/Getty Images)

No. 15 UConn @ No. 18 Marquette

After their shakiest start to a season in decades, the Huskies are climbing their way back up the poll right in time for conference play. The Golden Eagles are experiencing the opposite start to their slate. After appearing on the AP Top 25 for just one week last season, Marquette has been near-constant presence this year after the best start to a season in program history.

Entering Sunday’s contest, UConn (9-3) has dropped three early games, and Marquette (12-0) is undefeated. The Golden Eagles rarely find themselves in this position against their conference rivals, but their Liza Karlen is putting up numbers rivaling those of Player of the Year candidate Paige Bueckers. UConn is Marquette’s toughest challenge yet, but the Golden Eagles should not be overlooked.

1 p.m. ET Sunday — SNY

No. 13 Notre Dame @ Syracuse

While the Irish are the only ranked team in this contest, the ACC matchup is still worth a watch. Notre Dame and Syracuse are 9-1 and 10-1, respectively, and the game could be close.

The Orange’s only loss so far came at the hands of then-No. 20 Maryland, and the Irish fell to then-No. 6 South Carolina. Notre Dame has played more intimidating opponents than Syracuse, including then-No. 20 Tennessee, but the Orange have beaten most of their opponents handily, some by almost 50 points.

Regardless of the outcome of the game, watching Notre Dame’s Hannah Hidalgo and Syracuse’s Dyaisha Fair go up against each other in a conference match should be quality basketball.

2 p.m. ET Sunday — ACC Network

The NCAA basketball season has started off with a bang, with a number of freshmen already making names for themselves.

MiLaysia Fulwiley caught the attention of NBA great Magic Johnson in her very first game for South Carolina. And if Fulwiley and her fellows continue on their trajectories, then freshman of the year could be this season’s most competitive award — and a few freshmen could even play their way into the national player of the year conversation.

Just Women’s Sports takes a look at four freshman phenoms who have starred for their teams in the first month of the season.

JuJu Watkins, USC

Watkins has been vocal about having both freshman of the year and national player of the year aspirations – and so far, she’s off to a great start. On Monday, she snagged her third-straight Pac-12 Freshman of the Week selection, and she has helped No. 6 USC to its best AP poll ranking in 29 years.

Her first collegiate game set the tone. Her 32 points stands as the most ever by a USC freshman in their debut, beating out Lisa Leslie’s 30 points. And those 32 points came against a ranked opponent in Notre Dame. Just five games later, she broke Leslie’s record for the most 30-point games scored by a USC freshman. And what’s more? Her 26.8 points per game rank second in Division I behind only Iowa senior Caitlin Clark.

When USC trailed by six points to Penn State on Nov. 22, Watkins scored seven in a row to lead the still-undefeated Trojans to victory.

“JuJu is so phenomenal, to see her adapt to the college game and adapt as quickly is so impressive,” USC head coach Lindsay Gottlieb said of Watkins. And after her debut, Gottlieb said: “She’s ridiculous. Get used to it.”

(Jeff Blake/USA TODAY Sports)

MiLaysia Fulwiley, South Carolina

Fulwiley turned heads with her season-opening performance against Notre Dame in Paris. And since then, she’s been a walking highlight reel for South Carolina, helping the team reach the No. 1 spot in the rankings.

The freshman guard is averaging the second-most points (15.0) for the Gamecocks behind only senior center Kamilla Cardoso (16.8). She’s also averaging 4.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.0 steals per game. The Gamecocks (5-0) had a lot of question marks after the departure of big names such as Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke, but in Fulwiley, they’ve found an answer.

And what is perhaps scariest for South Carolina’s opponents is that Fulwiley still has a lot to learn when it comes to choosing her spots for her dazzling plays.

“She’s looking for a really great moment for her, a crowd-pleasing play. She has an appetite for it, that she loses sight of the in-between the great plays. And that’s where the game is being played,” head coach Dawn Staley said. “We gotta continue to give her more experiences in game-like situations. … But she’s learning.

“Not taking anything away from her. I want her to be great, I want her to be generational, I want her to be able to play a lot of different ways.”

(Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports)

Hannah Hidalgo, Notre Dame

A three-time ACC Rookie of the Week, Hidalgo is off to a hot start for the Irish, averaging 25.0 points (good for third in Division I), 5.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists and a 56.6% shooting through her first six games. She leads the ACC in both points and steals (6.3) per game.

Hidalgo set a Notre Dame record with 31 points in her first game. And earlier this month, she was named ACC Player of the Week and Rookie of the Week – just the second Notre Dame player to ever sweep such awards.

On top of that, she has 38 steals through six games. Her season high sits at 12 – which tied the Notre Dame record for a single game. She had 18 steals in a two-game span, which is the second-most by an ACC player in the last 25 seasons. She leads all Division I players in steals per game.

She also hasn’t posted below 20 points yet this season, and her six straight games with at least 20 points matches Beth Morgan and Arike Ogunbowale as the only players in Irish history to do so.

“I knew recruiting her what she was capable of providing for us,” head coach Niele Ivey said of Hidalgo. “I needed leadership. I needed scoring. And somebody that could just handle the ball … just the experience that she brings.

“And then we obviously fell in love with her. She has an incredible personality. So when you have that match with somebody with high character, somebody that plays with the unselfishness that she plays with, it fits into our system perfectly.”

(Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports)

Mikaylah Williams, LSU

Williams is another freshman who is making history. Against Kent State in mid-November, she scored 42 points, going 15-of-20 from the field while adding seven rebounds and three steals. Those 42 points set an LSU freshman record for points, and also stand as the most points in a single game for any LSU women’s basketball player in the last 25 seasons.

“She’s a special talent,” head coach Kim Mulkey said. “It was one of those moments where the rim feels as big as the ocean. I want to be that coach that pushes her beyond the limits. I think you’re just seeing her scratch the surface.”

She’s averaging 17.5 points per game, and her scoring touch has helped LSU rise to the sky-high expectations they faced ahead of the season – even amid some off-court turmoil.

For Williams to stand out among a top-ranked recruiting class at LSU is no small feat – especially considering the star transfers that the Tigers also brought in during the offseason, with both Hailey Van Lith and Aneesah Morrow making their mark.

South Carolina’s MiLaysia Fulwiley and Notre Dame’s Hannah Hidalgo were playing in their first college basketball game Monday.

Not only that, but they were playing their first college basketball game all the way across the Atlantic Ocean in Paris. And they were doing so in front of a national audience on ESPN.

None of that slowed down the freshmen phenoms, who received praise from NBA legend Magic Johnson, Phoenix Suns star Kevin Durant and Indiana Fever star Aliyah Boston.

Fulwiley and the No. 6 Gamecocks won the day, claiming a 100-71 win over the No. 10 Irish at Halles Georges Arena to open the season. A guard out of Columbia, South Carolina, Fulwiley contributed 17 points, six assists and six steals off the bench in her debut. She also made what Johnson described as “the best move in all of basketball.”

“I’m watching the women’s basketball game between South Carolina and Notre Dame right now and I just saw the best move in all of basketball, including the pros like LeBron, Steph, KD, Victor, and Jokic,” Johnson wrote on social media. “Everyone must see the coast-to-coast, behind-the-back move by freshman guard MiLaysia Fulwiley from South Carolina. WOW!!”

Fulwiley discussed the move with ESPN’s Holly Rowe after the game, saying: “That was my favorite move when I was in high school. So I just did it.”

Hidalgo, who hails from Haddonfield, New Jersey, scored a game-high 31 points. She became just the third guard since 2009 to score 30 or more points against the Gamecocks, joining Chennedy Carter and Paige Bueckers, per Her Hoops Stats.

“Hidalgo and Fulwiley moving DIFFERENT out here,” Durant wrote on social media.

Notre Dame and South Carolina are facing off in Paris, France, to kick off the women’s college basketball season.

It will be the first NCAA regular-season basketball game on Parisian soil. And for South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley, the significance of the game extends beyond just that.

It’s something that Staley has dreamt of, as she has watched major sports leagues such as the NFL go overseas with their regular-season games.

“I always thought, why couldn’t we do it?” she told ESPN. “And then, what do you know? We’re doing it. I think it’s great.”

Part of why it’s great is because the trip will be educational for players. While it “is a business trip” – after all, the team isn’t going to Paris to lose – they’re also taking advantage of the experience of going overseas.

“We’re talking about the student-athlete experience,” Staley said. “We try do to that right here in our home country, in our home state. But when you’re able to give young people an experience like this, we don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know what we’re going to experience. It’s all very new to all of us, but I know we’re gonna have a good time.”

To her, it also represents how far the Gamecocks have come.

“We are a brand here at South Carolina. People want us to participate in things like this,” she told South Carolina news station WLTX. “I’m happy for our fans, they get a chance to cheer us on. We wanted the event organizer to put a fan package together for our fans and it sold out within hours. So, the power of what we created here, we travel well as far as our fans. They follow us.

“I think it’s pretty darn cool to be trendsetters in women’s basketball, something that has never been done before.”

The game will be broadcast on ESPN at 1 p.m. ET Monday.

The NCAA Tournament begins Wednesday with the First Four, and the first round tips off Friday.

Yet while select teams rose to the top during the regular season, some of these will lose out in the tournament. Upsets happen, in spite of high seeding and home-court advantage. It be March Madness otherwise.

Just Women’s Sports takes a look at which top-4 teams are the most vulnerable.

No. 3 LSU

LSU may have finished their season at 28-2. But while the Tigers ran  amok in the SEC during the regular season, they have weaknesses.

For one, they couldn’t manage to hang with the No. 1 team in the nation in their February matchup against South Carolina. The game proved a failed test for an LSU team with a nonconference schedule chock-full of tough opponents such as… (checks notes) Bellarmine and Mississippi Valley.

Then Tigers ran into a roadblock in the SEC Tournament semifinals in Tennessee, which exposed LSU’s vulnerabilities and mounted an improbable comeback to advance to the title game. LSU faces Hawai’i in the first-round, and the Rainbow Warriors could be a tough test. And if LSU advances to the second round, it could face No. 6 seed Michigan, a battle-tested team coming out of the Big Ten.

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No. 4 Tennessee

In all likelihood, Tennessee will advance past No. 13 seed Saint Louis in the first round. But after that, the Vols could run up against No. 5 seed Iowa State. The Cyclones are not only Big 12 tournament champions, but they also boast star player Ashley Joens – who any team in this tournament will find difficult to contain.

Tennessee has its own star in Rickea Jackson, making the possibility of this second-round matchup very enticing. Still, it makes Tennessee susceptible to an early exit.

No. 3 Duke

There’s no telling what kind of run Duke will have in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Some thought that December’s win over NC State was the Blue Devils’ coming out party. But the ACC remained chaotic throughout the season, and Duke received its share of bumps and bruises – in particular, their 58-37 loss to Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament might leave sour taste in the Blue Devils’ mouths as they prepare to face Iona in the first round.

But they’re also the team that put 68 points on Boston College while only allowing the Eagles to score 27. And they also beat Notre Dame back on Feb. 5. Their season-ending loss to UNC was redeemed by a win over the Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament, which showcases how hot and cold this team can be – particularly as they approached the end of the season.

If the Blue Devils can bring their best in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, they’ll be hard to beat. But there’s no guaranteeing that an Iona or a Colorado won’t send Duke packing.

Celeste Taylor and Duke lead the ACC, one of the most competitive conferences in the country. (Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports)

No. 3 Notre Dame

Notre Dame is one of the biggest question marks in this year’s NCAA Tournament, as there’s no telling when they’ll get star player Olivia Miles back from injury – if they do at all.

And if Irish advance past Southern Utah in the first round, they’ll likely face Creighton in the second round. Yes, that Creighton, the same team that upended Iowa in the Sweet 16 last year. The same Creighton who almost beat UConn in February and battled against other top-tier Big East teams like Villanova and Marquette. A Notre Dame team with Olivia Miles going up against Creighton could be one of the best second-round matchups of the tournament. Without Miles, though, the Irish could head home early.

No. 2 UConn

Can UConn stay healthy? That’s the biggest question facing the Huskies in this year’s NCAA Tournament. If they can, then a run to the Final Four isn’t improbable, even in a tough region. Baylor could prove more difficult than anticipated, and Ohio State is a battle-tested No. 3 seed who has also faced injury issues this season but is also once again healthy.

Having Azzi Fudd and Caroline Ducharme back in the lineup helps the Huskies’ chances, and both looked good during the team’s Big East tournament title run. But as the story has been all season, there’s no telling what type of injury this team could face next.

CHICAGO — The last time Jackie Young and Skylar Diggins-Smith played on the same team was during a pick-up game when Young was getting recruited to Notre Dame.

Coach Muffet McGraw couldn’t watch the contest, because it was an unofficial practice session, but she remembers exactly what Young said when she came off the court.

“Jackie said, ‘Skylar yelled at me. I loved it,’” McGraw said with a laugh.

Young doesn’t recall the conversation, but doesn’t doubt that it happened.

“I was definitely fan-girling back then,” she said Friday from the Orange Carpet of the WNBA All-Star Game.

Young, who plays for the Aces, and Diggins-Smith, a guard for the Mercury, both grew up in Indiana, so they have long been familiar with one another.

“I’ve always watched Jackie,” Diggins-Smith said. “She set scoring records and made a lot of noise coming out of Indiana. I’ve followed her since she was young.”

The duo are two of four graduates representing Notre Dame in the 2022 All-Star Game this weekend, along with Jewell Loyd of the Storm and Arike Ogunbowale of the Wings.

This is the first time Notre Dame has had four players in the game.

“I think it’s great representation for Notre Dame, especially being so close to the university here in Chicago, with the school being an hour and a half down the road,” Diggins-Smith said. “So, hopefully we see some familiar faces, some Irish fans in the crowd.”

McGraw won’t be one of those faces. A trip to Philadelphia to visit family takes precedence for her, mostly because it was scheduled long before the All-Stars were announced.

“I’ll be watching on TV for sure,” she said. “I wish I could be there.”

The current slate of Notre Dame players in the WNBA starts with Diggins-Smith, who played for the Irish from 2009-13. She overlapped with Loyd, who played from 2012-15, and between the two, Notre Dame appeared in four national championship games. Then it was Ogunbowale and Young’s turn to pilot the program from 2015-19, leading the Fighting Irish to an NCAA title behind Ogunbowale’s heroics in 2018.

“We had a great run from 2011 to 2019,” McGraw said. “And we definitely established ourselves as one of the elite programs in the country.”

According to McGraw, that success started with Diggins-Smith, who helped set a standard of excellence within the Notre Dame program.

She came in with a different attitude, one that McGraw hadn’t seen before.

“She changed the culture,” McGraw said. “That’s when we really started to rise. The way that she competes every day at practice, the way that she values defense. She’s such a great passer, and she builds that chemistry to the point where the players trust her and love playing with her.”

McGraw credits Skylar Diggins-Smith with helping change the competitive culture at Notre Dame. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Wings guard Marina Mabrey remembers noticing the competitive culture when watching her older sister, Michaela Mabrey, who was teammates with Diggins-Smith.

Marina embodied the same attitude when she played for the Irish alongside Young and Ogunbowale. She has since taken it into her pro career, and her fellow alums have done the same.

“I feel like we just learn how to be pros there,” Mabrey said. “Everyone plays so hard and makes plays for their teammates. I’m really proud of everyone from Notre Dame that is an All-Star this year. They deserve it.”

For McGraw, the success of Diggins-Smith, Lloyd, Young and Ogunbowale is no surprise. They play essentially the same way they did in college, but they all took on their WNBA careers a bit differently. Yet another testament to Notre Dame’s ability to produce pros.

“We all had different journeys, we all had different paths to get here,” Lloyd said. “It is pretty cool to see that, and I think it is just a credit to the mindset of coming into college and knowing the goals. College wasn’t the end for us.”

Loyd and Ogunbowale faced each other in last year's WNBA All-Star Game. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

That’s why the program is a mainstay at the top of college basketball, and why new recruits continue to buy into the Notre Dame culture. The four WNBA All-Stars embody that upward trajectory, something McGraw prided herself on during her years at the helm.

“That’s what every kid wants,” she said. “They want to be able to see, ‘How are you going to help me get to the league?’ That’s the question most recruits ask. I think the way that we run our program definitely prepared them to be pros. I think that it was demanding — I was pretty tough on them — so I think they’re able to handle pretty much anything that gets thrown at them.”

Playing for Notre Dame is just the beginning.

After seeing her players scattered throughout the league, McGraw is thrilled that Diggins-Smith, Lloyd, Young and Ogunbowale will all be representing the same squad on Sunday. The four players are on Team Stewart, with Young making the start and the others serving as reserves.

“I’m saying their team is going to win,” McGraw said. “And it will be fun to see.”

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Arike Ogunbowale’s iconic buzzer-beater to seal Notre Dame’s national championship in 2018 almost didn’t happen. Ogunbowale, now a star with the Dallas Wings, tells Kelley O’Hara on the latest episode of The Players’ Pod that she considered leaving the program after her freshman year.

“Coming in, I was a top-five player, McDonald’s All-American, you obviously have all these expectations,” she says. “And then you get there, I am coming off the bench, some games not playing. I’m like, ‘What is this?'”

Instead of entering the transfer portal, though, Ogunbowale decided to commit herself fully to improving her game and earning playing time on coach Muffet McGraw’s team.

“It’s all about trusting the process, trusting yourself, and you just really got to put the work in,” Ogunbowale tells O’Hara.

The number of players opting to transfer in women’s college basketball has reached historic highs the past two offseasons since the NCAA allowed one-time transfers to play without sitting out a season. Ogunbowale has noticed the trend and reflected on her own college journey.

“I love that kids are able to transfer, do whatever they want, but a lot of times you just got to stick through,” Ogunbowale says. “I wanted to leave my freshman year, and if I would’ve left, you never know what would’ve happened. Like, I ended up winning a national championship my junior year that might not have happened anywhere else.”

Sticking it out, Ogunbowale became a starter her sophomore year and averaged 20.8 points per game on the way to leading the Fighting Irish to the NCAA title as a junior. She hit the game-winning shot in Notre Dame’s 2018 Final Four overtime win over UConn before following it up with more heroics against Mississippi State in the championship game.

“The whole year was crazy,” Ogunbowale recalls. “We had, like, four ACL tears so we really were going like six, seven deep the whole season, which honestly, looking back, it’s a blessing because you can make a mistake and coach can’t pull you out.”

The rollercoaster year culminated in an electrifying national championship game, where Ogunbowale sunk the game-winning shot for Notre Dame. The play was actually drawn up for another Notre Dame player to take the show, Ogunbowale says, but it broke down in the moment and the ball ended up in her hands.

“It turned out good, but those three seconds felt like a lifetime literally,” she says. “Anytime I see those shots, especially around March Madness, I obviously get tagged in them a lot … and I just sit and watch it. Like wow, it was crazy.”

Listen to the latest episode of The Players’ Pod for more from Ogunbowale on her basketball journey through college, the WNBA and overseas.

Friday marks the four-year anniversary of “The Shot,” the buzzer-beater with which Arike Ogunbowale sealed a title win for Notre Dame against Mississippi State.

Ogunbowale averaged 20.8 points per game that season, but two of her most important shots came in back-to-back games in the NCAA tournament. Against UConn in the Final Four, Ogunbowale nailed the go-ahead jumper to put the Irish up 91-89.

UConn’s desperation shot at the last second came up short, sending Notre Dame to the national championship.

In the national championship game, Ogunbowale delivered once again. After clawing back from a 15 point deficit, Notre Dame was tied with Mississippi State in the final seconds of regulation.

With three seconds left, Ogunbowale nailed a fade-away 3-pointer despite being well-defended. The shot won Notre Dame its first women’s basketball title since 2001.

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Niele Ivey doesn’t like to waste time.

It took her four days after being named the new head coach of Notre Dame women’s basketball in August 2020 to land two of the top recruits in the nation. Those freshmen, guards Olivia Miles and Sonia Citron, have quickly evolved into two of the top scorers and playmakers on the roster.

Then it took her one season to lead Notre Dame back to the Sweet 16, a place the program has become familiar with after two championships and four runner-up finishes under Muffet McGraw, Ivey’s former coach and predecessor.

And after Notre Dame’s heartbreaking 66-63 loss to NC State in the Sweet 16 on Saturday, Ivey said it wouldn’t take long for her to turn the page and begin preparing for next season.

“I’m excited to get back to work. Maybe I’ll take 24 hours off, and then I’m going to start watching film and get back to work because that’s what it is. This is a grind,” she said.

For nearly three quarters on Saturday, Notre Dame played like it didn’t want to waste any time, either. After going down 16-12 in the first quarter, Miles led the Fighting Irish on a 24-10 run in the second, scoring eight of her team-high 21 points during that stretch.

Notre Dame maintained its lead all the way into the fourth quarter, not letting NC State get within more than four points for nearly 15 minutes. Citron and Maddy Westbeld, the other two underclassmen in Notre Dame’s starting lineup, were key offensive catalysts, combining for 21 points and 13 steals in the game.

Notre Dame’s offense was so potent, five days after scoring 108 points in their win over Oklahoma, that NC State coach Wes Moore switched things up at the start of the fourth quarter. The Wolfpack started pressing Notre Dame higher up the floor, forcing Miles as the ball-handler into making tough decisions.

From there, NC State methodically clawed its way back into the game, exploiting Notre Dame’s 16 turnovers for 22 total points. Raina Perez sealed the comeback with under 30 seconds to go, stripping Dara Mabrey of the ball at halfcourt and hitting the layup at the other end to put NC State up 64-63. She then closed out the win with two made free throws.

“I could have done a way better job of getting my team more organized,” Miles said after the game. “I was kind of quiet because I was trying to figure it out for myself, figure out the spots that I can go and get the ball up the floor. That caused some of my team to create turnovers, and I take the blame for that.”

Ivey spoke before practice on Friday about Miles’ leadership being the next step in her career evolution. Being vocal isn’t something that comes naturally to the freshman, so she’s had to push herself into uncomfortable situations to help her team.

“Coach Ivey is a national champion point guard, so she’s seen the worst of it, and she knows and she helps me,” Miles said.

A game like Saturday’s, though demoralizing for the way it ended, only strengthens that bond between a coach and her star player.

From now until the start of preseason next fall, Ivey can mull over Miles’ performance and the fact her team was 30 seconds away from upsetting No. 1 seed NC State and advancing to the Elite Eight. But she won’t be thinking about it that way.

Niele Ivey doesn’t have time to dwell on the past when her present and future are so bright.

“I was told, oh, you’re going to need three to four years. Well, I needed one,” Ivey said. “I’m hoping that what we showed as a program and as a team, I hope that attracts even more talented players to want to play for this family.”

Hannah Withiam is the Managing Editor at Just Women’s Sports. She previously served as an editor at The Athletic and a reporter at the New York Post. Follow her on Twitter @HannahWithiam.

No. 1 seed NC State came back to defeat No. 5 seed Notre Dame 66-63 in the Sweet 16 on Saturday.

Raina Perez delivered the game-winner, stripping Dara Mabrey of the ball at halfcourt and converting the breakaway layup to give the Wolfpack a one-point lead with 16 seconds left.

NC State overcame a double-digit deficit, outscoring Notre Dame 20-10 in the fourth quarter to pull out the win down the stretch.

The Fighting Irish gave up seven of their 16 turnovers in the fourth, allowing NC State a window to mount their comeback.

Elissa Cunane led the Wolfpack in points with 16 while adding ten rebounds. Kai Crutchfield notched 14 rebounds and four steals, while Perez added seven points and four steals.

Notre Dame shot 50.9 percent as a team, with Oliva Miles contributing a game-high 21 points.

NC State’s late push, however, secured their place in the Elite Eight, where they will face off against the winner of No. 2 UConn and No. 3 Indiana.