Wes Moore knew he received a talented player when Dominique Wilson transferred to N.C. State in 2013 after one season at Arkansas.
Four years later, Moore says, “But she has grown so much the last year.”
Wilson displayed just how much on Friday while performing on college basketball’s most important stage for the first time.
She scored 23 points – 10 above her average – as the Wolfpack defeated Auburn 62-48 in the opening round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
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N.C. State (23-8) seeded sixth in the Lexington Regional, will face No. 3 Texas on Sunday.
The last time N.C. State reached the NCAA tournament, in 2014, Wilson, a senior guard, was ineligible to play because she had transferred that season.
The Wolfpack set out for Los Angeles without her and returned after losing 72-57 in a first-round game to BYU. NCAA rules prohibited Wilson from accompanying the team.
“It was difficult being left behind because for one, I couldn’t play, and they went to L.A.,” Wilson said on Thursday. “I was kind of mad about that.”
Wilson hit 8 of 18 shots, including 3 of 8 3-point attempts, against Auburn (17-15). She made all four of her free throws. Wilson said her first NCAA appearance after five years of college had a different feel to it than other games.
“I find myself more focused because this could be your last game,” Wilson said.
Friday’s win was the first in the NCAA tournament for N.C. State since 2007. Senior point guard Miah Spencer finished with 13 points. Senior forward Jennifer Mathurin and guard Ashley Williams grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds apiece. For Williams, a 5-8 senior, that is a career-best.
N.C State hit only 37.7 percent of its shots, but it avoided excessive turnovers against an Auburn team that produces 22 a game, second most in the nation, by deploying full-court defensive pressure. The Wolfpack committed 20, but nine came after it took a 27-point lead in the fourth quarter.
“They have four seniors (starting), and it’s very hard to rattle them,” Auburn coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. “They spread us out.”
Janiah McKay scored 12 points to lead Auburn, which lost 10 of its final 13 games this season. N.C. State limited Katie Frerking, Auburn’s leading scorer, to nine points, seven fewer than her average, on 2-of-10 shooting from the field. The Tigers converted a season-low 24.6 percent of their shots.
Frerking said poor shooting also contributed to their problems on defense.
“When we can’t score, we can’t always get our press set up like we want to,” Frerking said.
N.C. State played well enough that it didn’t really miss Spencer when she had to leave the game in the second quarter. Spencer, the Wolfpack’s assist leader and second-best scorer, missed the final 4:25 of the first half after picking up her second foul, a charging call that Moore protested.
N.C. State led by 17 at the time and didn’t lose any ground in Spencer’s absence. The two teams scored only two points apiece during that final stretch of the half.
Wilson, who reached double figures for the 14th consecutive game, scored 14 in the half, converting 2 of 5 3-point attempts.
The Wolfpack shot poorly as a group, just 31 percent, but was better than the 17 percent produced by Auburn.
On Sunday comes Texas for the Wolfpack and the teams have at least one thing in common. They both won games this season at Florida State, the No. 3 seeded team in the Stockton Regional.
“They’re a great team and well-coached,” Moore said. “And they are on their home floor.”