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Stanford, NC State to get acquainted in March Madness before becoming ACC rivals

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North Carolina State coach Wes Moore even joked about it: The Wolfpack’s Sweet 16 game against Stanford is a bit of a harbinger of what’s to come.

That’s because next season the perennially talented Cardinal are headed to the ACC.

Second-seeded Stanford plays No. 3 seed N.C. State on Friday night in the women’s NCAA Tournament before top-seeded Texas plays No. 4 seed Gonzaga in the Portland 4 Region.

“I’m going to see if this can count as our game next year against Stanford, and we’ll just count it double,” Moore laughed.

Stanford is among five Pac-12 teams — most of any conference — that have advanced to the Sweet 16 as the league’s days dwindle due to conference realignment. Stanford and California both decided to join the ACC last summer, part of a collapse that left just two teams — Oregon State and Washington State — in a Pac-2.

The Cardinal, under Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer, rule the conference’s women with 27 regular-season and 15 conference tournament titles. Stanford has three NCAA titles, in 1990, 1992 and 2021, and the team was runner-up in both 2008 and 2010.

“It’s exciting to expand our conference out to the West Coast.” Moore said. “I think it’s good, but right now I’m not really looking at it as a conference game. I’m just focused on where we are.”

Moore has made his own impact on N.C. State, with eight tournament appearances in his 11 seasons, including a run to the Elite Eight in 2022.

The Wolfpack (29-6) defeated Tennessee, 79-72, in the second round in Raleigh. It helped erase the bad feeling from the season before, when the team fell to Princeton in the opening round.

The Cardinal (30-5) needed overtime to get past seventh-seeded Iowa State, 87-81, in a second-round game at home in Maples Pavilion. Stanford All-American Cameron Brink fouled out, but Kiki Iriafen finished with 41 points.

VanDerveer is part of a group chat with her fellow Pac-12 coaches in the tournament that has taken on a bittersweet tone.

“I just said as we end our Pac-12 family, I just want to wish everyone best of luck in the tournament and, going our separate ways, we’ve had a great and special thing,” VanDerveer said. “We have a really close group, and it is incredibly sad to see the end of such a great conference.”

The winner of the game between the Cardinal and Wolfpack will advance to the Elite Eight to face the winner of the game between Gonzaga and Texas.

Texas (32-4) defeated Alabama, 65-54, in the second round in Austin to earn the trip to Portland. Aaliyah Moore had 21 points and 10 rebounds.

“I think for me, it’s a little personal just because I wasn’t able to play last year,” Moore said. “I had to sit on the bench and watch what happened and watch my team not play to the best of their ability that I know that they could. To see how hard we worked to get to this point and to see us actually executing, I’m so proud of them. … There’s still so much we have to work on. I know with this group we’re going to put our head down and do it.”

Last season, Texas was a No. 4 seed and got through to the second round before falling to No. 5 seed Louisville.

The Longhorns were expected to be good this season, but they lost point guard Rori Harmon for the season with a torn ACL. Instead, Texas got increased contributions from a variety of players, including Moore — who was out with an ACL injury last season — and freshman Madison Booker, who had 26 points in the team’s victory over Iowa State for the Big 12 Tournament title.

Booker, Moore and Taylor Jones were all averaging in double-figures for the Longhorns.

Gonzaga (32-3) comes to Portland after a 77-66 second-round victory over Utah in Spokane. The Zags have made five appearances in the Sweet 16, but they’ve never advanced further.

Gonzaga lost just two regular-season games this season, both in November. The only loss since then was Portland’s surprise 67-66 victory in the West Coast Conference Tournament final.

Gonzaga “may be a mid-major, but they don’t play like it,” guard Brynna Maxwell said.

Reporting by The Associated Press.

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