NC State was in the mix to be in the top 16 seeds and host the early rounds of the women's NCAA tournament. Losses to North Carolina and Wake Forest hurt the Wolfpack, though, and they ended up a No. 6 seed. But their victories over the likes of Notre Dame, Florida State, Duke and Louisville -- which were all in the top 16 and hosted their games -- was an indication that No. 3 Texas had plenty of reasons to be concerned facing NC State in the second round in Austin, Texas.
And what a battle it turned out to be. Texas survived 84-80, and this is one that will sting for the Wolfpack, especially with a questionable fifth foul call that took their top scorer of Sunday's game, Miah Spencer, out of the game with 1 minute, 3 seconds left.
NC State senior guards Spencer and Dominique Wilson did not want this to be their last game. Spencer said earlier this season she believed the Wolfpack were capable of doing "something special," and they almost did that Sunday. They were trying to become the first NC State team to advance to the Sweet 16 since 2007, the "magical season" of late coach Kay Yow.
Texas led 28-15 after the first quarter, but the Wolfpack turned around the game with a 21-9 scoring advantage in the second quarter. NC State outscored Texas 24-18 in the third quarter and had a 60-55 lead going into the final period.
Texas freshman Alecia Sutton was hurt when she tried to stop a drive by Wilson with 6:51 left in the game. Sutton had to go to the bench with the score tied at 64-64. The foul was ruled a flagrant 1, which seemed an odd decision as it appeared to be a play on the ball. Wilson made both free throws, and then NC State got the ball back. Wilson scored on a jumper, making it was a four-point possession that put the Wolfpack up 68-64.
But the Texas defense got tougher, and the Longhorns were able to get the lead back 79-78 on two free throws by Big 12 player of the year Brooke McCarty when Spencer fouled out.
An ensuing turnover by NC State resulted in an Ariel Atkins layup that put Texas up 81-78. A McCarty steal then gave Atkins a shot at the basket, but she missed and fouled on the rebound, sending NC State senior Ashley Williams to the line. She made both free throws, cutting Texas' lead to 81-80. After a Texas turnover, Big 12 freshman of the year Joyner Holmes drew a charge against Wilson with 8 seconds left. Wilson had made the basket -- which would have given NC State the lead -- but it was waved off.
Texas' Lashann Higgs then was fouled and made her first free throw. She missed the second, but Holmes was there to get the rebound and the putback, and Texas had a heart-pounding four-point victory.
Player of the game: Their team didn't win, but you have to give this as a co-honor to Spencer and Wilson, who combined for 58 points. Spencer was a freshman in coach Wes Moore's first season at NC State, and she's been one of the building blocks of his program. Her 31 points were a career high. Wilson played her first season at Arkansas in 2012-13, then transferred to NC State. She had 27 points Sunday on 7-for-12 shooting from the field and 12-for-12 from the foul line.
Turning point: Spencer fouling out with just over a minute left was very tough for the Wolfpack, who depend on her a lot for stability and ball-handling. And on this day, she was also having a career game scoring.
How it was won: The Texas defense clamped down at the end of the fourth quarter and didn't allow a field goal for the last 4 minutes, 11 seconds. NC State's scoring was limited to five free throws in that closing stretch.
X factor: Holmes made those two big plays at the end of the game, drawing the charge and then getting the rebound off her teammate's missed free throw and the putback. Holmes finished with 16 points and 9 rebounds.
Stat of the game: Rebounding helped Texas prevail, as the Longhorns had a 41-28 edge on the boards.
What's next: Texas moves on to the Sweet 16 in the Lexington Regional, and will face the winner of Monday's game between No. 2 seed Stanford and No. 7 Kansas State (ESPN2/WatchESPN, 6:30 p.m.) in Manhattan, Kansas. NC State finishes the season at 23-9.