April 1, 2024 

Confidence never wavers for Aziaha James

The junior guard buried Texas with a barrage of 3-point shots

PORTLAND, Ore. — Before tip-off between NC State and Texas in an Elite Eight clash, the talk of the NCAA Tournament’s Portland region was a discrepancy in the 3-point line on the court. Apparently the lines had been laid down incorrectly, causing one side of the court to have a shorter 3-point length. But that was of no concern for NC State guard Aziaha James.

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The junior sharpshooter drilled seven three-pointers en route to winning the Portland Regional 4 Most Outstanding Player Award following the Wolfpack’s 76-66 win over Texas. It didn’t matter what side of the court she shot on. In the first half she was a perfect 5-of-5. In the second half she shot 2-of-4.

While the players themselves were unaware of the difference between the 3-point lines, when asked postgame about it, James bluntly responded that it didn’t really matter.

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”Not at all,” James told assembled media. “Not at all.”

It’s been a breakout season for James, and that momentum has carried over into the NCAA Tournament. This season she moved into the starting lineup while averaging 16.7 points per game, 4.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.0 steals with splits of 41.8% from the field, 34.4% from 3-point range and 77.9% from the free-throw line.

During the NCAA Tournament, those numbers have increased to 24.3 points per game, 3.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.5 steals. She’s shot 51.3% from the field and 53.2% from the 3-point line. She set the tone early against Texas, and the Longhorns were never able to fully recover.

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It was almost a mirror image of James’ performance against Stanford, when she shot the ball just as well. While some may have questioned whether she could keep up that hot shooting, James was always confident in being able to deliver like this.

“I just keep my head up, you know? You never know what can happen. I just kept going,” James said. “My confidence was growing as the shots were going in. So later in the game, they just kept hitting for me. So I just kept shooting.”

Flash back to two seasons ago, and James was a freshman on an NC State team that suffered a heartbreaking loss to UConn in the Elite Eight. She didn’t play during that loss, despite being named to the ACC All-Freshman Team that year.

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In today’s age of the transfer portal, many young players aren’t waiting around anymore for their time to come. They hit the portal and look for greener pastures. James did not. She stuck around to build with this program, a decision that NC State head coach Wes Moore is grateful for every day.

“Great player out of high school, I mean, big-time player. But freshman year she kind of had to work her way in. Last year she got more time, probably should have got even more if I hadn’t been so adamant about playing veterans,” Moore told reporters after the game. “And now here she is reaping the benefits. … She’s worked so hard over the summer, and like I said, her confidence. She used to maybe hang her head if things didn’t go well, if a shot didn’t go in, if I got on her. But now she is a woman. And she handles adversity and keeps coming back.”

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James played 35 minutes against Stanford. She played all 40 minutes against Texas. She also played all 40 minutes during NC State’s second-round win over Tennessee. She’s emerged on the national stage as the Wolfpack prepare for their Final Four showdown against South Carolina.

James told reporters after the Texas game that when she was a senior in high school, she was always confident that she could be a part of something special at NC State. Even after the 2022 loss in the Elite Eight, that confidence never wavered. Nobody really knew who she was as a freshman, but you can bet the world is now quite aware of her name.

“It feels so good to be a part of that since my freshman year. It shows a lot about the Wolfpack. Just shows a lot about myself, never giving up,” James said. “People didn’t know my name my freshman year, but you know my name now, so you see how I’ve grown.”

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David has been with The Next team since the High Post Hoops days when he joined the staff in 2018. He is based in Los Angeles and covers the LA Sparks, Pac-12 Conference, Big West Conference and some high school as well.

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