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Aziaha James scores 23, No 10 NC State back in ACC championship after 69-43 win over Florida State

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina State is back in familiar territory.

Aziaha James scored 23 points, Mimi Collins added 17 points and 13 rebounds and the 10th-ranked Wolfpack beat Florida State on 69-43 Saturday to advance to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game for the fourth time in five seasons.

River Baldwin chipped in with seven points and 11 rebounds for second-seeded NC State, which has rattled off four straight wins since consecutive double-digit road losses at North Carolina and Duke last month.

NC State outrebounded Florida State 58-32 and held the Seminoles to 25% shooting from the field.

“We really locked in defensively,” Collins said.

The Wolfpack (27-5) will face No. 14 Notre Dame in Sunday’s championship game. The fourth-seeded Irish hammered defending tournament champion and 11th-ranked Virginia Tech, playing without three-time ACC player of the year Elizabeth Kitley, 82-53 in the earlier game.

NC State beat Notre Dame 59-43 on Feb. 15 in South Bend, Indiana.

“Notre Dame has been playing really well ever since we played them up there, and that sort of kickstarted their run," NC State coach Wes Moore said of the rematch. "That will be a great game.”

Added Wolfpack guard Zoe Brooks: “I’m excited to play them again. We defended them well last time and took away their key players.”

Moore said he was pleased with James' play during the ACC tournament. She had 16 points in NC State's 54-51 win over Duke on Friday night.

“She worked hard this summer,” Moore said. “She tried to spend a lot of time in the gym. And with opportunity you gain confidence. And I always remind her that the harder you work, the luckier you get. And she's pretty lucky right now.”

Ti'Naya Latson had 16 points for Florida State (26-6), which will now await its NCAA Tournament seeding.

The Wolfpack won the ACC title in 2020, 2021 and 2002 but failed to reach the title game last season.

Now they’re back, and looking reestablish their dominance.

NC State relied heavily Saturday on River Baldwin, repeatedly pounding the ball inside to the 6-foot-5 center who had a significant size advantage. Baldwin's presence freed up James and Collins to make shots.

This was NC State's game from the early moments.

Saniya Rivers' 3-pointer just two minutes in gave the Wolfpack a 6-5 lead they would never relinquish.

NC State pushed its lead to 20-11 after the first quarter behind 11 points from Collins, then extended the lead to 15 after James buried a 3-pointer from the left wing in the closing seconds of the first half. That momentum carried over to the second half, with Rivers knocking down a jumper at the end of the third quarter to give the Wolfpack a 50-29 lead.

Florida State scored just nine points in the third quarter.

“We just couldn't knock down good shots," Florida State coach Brooke Wyckoff said. "And then defensively we allowed too many points in the paint. We didn’t do a good job of helping.”

BIG PICTURE

Florida State: The Seminoles were playing well entering the semifinals, having won six of their previous seven games. They will make the NCAA Tournament for the 18th time in 19 years, but will need to regain momentum.

North Carolina State: The Wolfpack dominated on the glass and stifled the Seminoles with their defense, two aspects of their game that will serve them well in the NCAA tourney. ___

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AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball