Hidalgo helps No. 14 Notre Dame edge No. 10 NC State for ACC Tournament title

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — Niele Ivey had felt the thrill of winning championships as a player and an assistant coach, and she had been praying for the opportunity to experience it as Notre Dame’s head coach.

The moment came Sunday with confetti falling, players dancing behind her on a stage, the view from atop a ladder as she cut down the net. It was all thanks to a resilient bunch led by the star freshman who still has yet to look like a rookie.

Star freshman Hannah Hildalgo had 22 points — including a pair of baskets for the lead down the stretch — as the 14th-ranked Fighting Irish held off No. 10 North Carolina State 55-51 in Sunday’s championship game at the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.

It marked the Irish’s first conference tournament title in five years. Notre Dame won the ACC regular-season title last year.

Hildalgo finished with six rebounds and six assists for the fourth-seeded Fighting Irish (26-6), and was named the tournament’s most valuable player. Maddy Westbeld added 16 points and seven boards as Notre Dame had just six players after losing leading shot blocker Kylee Watson to a knee injury in Saturday’s semifinals.

“This team is the type of team that does whatever we need to help us win,” Ivey said.

Notre Dame won the ACC Tournament in its first four seasons in the league from 2014-17, lost in the final in 2018, then returned to claim a fifth title in 2019 under Muffet McGraw. But the Irish hadn’t been back since amid the transition to Ivey, a former Notre Dame player who led the program to the 2001 NCAA title and was a McGraw assistant.

Ivey, now 46, took over amid the COVID-19 pandemic as a first-time head coach. Now the fourth-year coach has her first title.

“I’ve been praying for this moment, I’ve been praying for this scenario, this situation,” Ivey said before getting choked up while standing on the midcourt stage for the trophy presentation.

This win came in front of a home-state crowd for N.C. State filled with plenty of red about 80 miles east of the second-seeded Wolfpack’s campus home.

After Madison Hayes’ missed desperation 3, KK Bransford pulled down the rebound to seal the win. As the final seconds ticked away, Hidalgo — a dynamic player named ACC freshman of the year and ranking as one of the nation’s top scorers — ran over to start jumping around in what quickly became a bouncing huddle of celebration as the horn sounded.

River Baldwin had 14 points and seven rebounds to lead N.C. State (27-6), while Aziaha James had 12 points on just 5-for-16 shooting. N.C. State was going for its fourth title in five seasons, the program’s only crowns since 1991.

Hildalgo put the Irish ahead to stay at 53-51, losing James around a screen and attacking Baldwin in the paint for a scooping layup while falling to the ground with 1:28 left. That came moments after she scored a hanging layup over Baldwin in a previous tie, and she hit the free throw with 10.5 seconds left to make it a two-possession game.

“The trust they instill in me is just amazing,” Hidalgo said.

In a game in which neither team led by more than seven, mistakes loomed large and shots were hard to come by. But the Wolfpack came up empty late in two critical moments late, first when Saniya Rivers pushed the ball in transition but threw a kickout pass to the corner and straight out of bounds with 31.9 seconds left in a two-point game.

Then, after a free throw from Sonia Citron, James missed a quality 3-point look from the right wing out of a timeout. Hidalgo followed with her clinching free throw to start the Irish’s celebration.

“We’ve had a lot of close games, they’ve found a way to get it done,” Wolfpack coach Wes Moore said. “Again, a couple of possessions here or there today were the difference. And as a coach, that’s hard because I feel like maybe I could have done this different or that different and put them in a better position.”

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish opened the tournament with a quarterfinal win against No. 24 Louisville, then won in a romp against 11th-ranked and reigning champion Virginia Tech — which was playing without three-time league player of the year Elizabeth Kitley — in Saturday’s semifinals.

N.C. State: The Wolfpack opened by edging Duke in a rock-fight quarterfinal Friday marred by bad shooting from both teams, then rolled in Saturday’s semifinals against Florida State. N.C. State, which spent much of the year inside the top 10 nationally, had won at Notre Dame by 16 in mid-February but shot just 35% in this one while making 3 of 17 3-pointers.

UP NEXT

Both await their NCAA Tournament seeding, with paths likely to start as opening-round hosts.

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