RALEIGH, N.C. -- Kay Yow hugged her players as photographers took shot after shot. Then North Carolina State's coach turned to the fans, smiled and triumphantly extended both arms to hold up a Wolfpack hand gesture.
The fans responded by giving her a standing ovation as she left the court.
It was truly a moment to savor for the Hall of Fame coach and her fight-to-the-finish Wolfpack.
Khadijah Whittington scored 15 of her career-high 23 points after halftime while pulling down 11 rebounds. Shayla Fields knocked down a 3-pointer in the final minute of overtime shortly after missing key free throws late in regulation. And when it was over, the Wolfpack had held off Baylor 78-72 on Tuesday night to earn Yow's first trip to the NCAA Tournament's round of 16 in six years.
It certainly wasn't easy for N.C. State (25-9), the fourth seed in the Fresno Regional. The Wolfpack bounced back after blowing an 11-point lead midway through the second half, then evaded what would have been a crushing loss in front of its home fans when Bernice Mosby missed a shot on the final play of regulation.
That sent the Wolfpack to its 12th win in 14 games since Yow returned from a 16-game leave to concentrate on her cancer treatment. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987 and it first recurred during the 2004-05 season.
Her team will face Connecticut. And Yow figures her team is playing on more than just emotion.
"I know they want to win for me in that sense," Yow said. "I really am grateful and appreciate the fact that they do, but I think they're a real team. I think they can play with that kind of spirit every time they go out."
Whittington proved that against the fifth-seeded Lady Bears (26-8) despite feeling sick in the first half. The 6-foot-2 junior, averaging 10.1 points and 10.5 rebounds, came up with seemingly every key rebound or basket while also slowing Mosby -- who finished with 26 points but had just nine on 3-for-15 shooting after halftime.
"I felt kind of sick, but this is it, so I had to suck it up," Whittington said.
She finished 11-for-20 from the field and also had three steals and two blocks in 38 minutes.
"KD really wanted the ball tonight and really went to work on the inside," Yow said.
In a back-and-forth game in which neither team seemed able to control, the Wolfpack came up with the clinching plays in the final minutes. In addition to Whittington, Gillian Goring -- who had 16 points and 11 rebounds -- scored a go-ahead layup on the Wolfpack's second possession of the extra period.
Marquetta Dickens, who was 0-for-4 from the field after her 25-point performance in the first round, knocked down a short jumper after Angela Tisdale's two free throws brought Baylor to with in 68-67 with 2:49 left.
Then, after Whittington hit a turnaround shot in the lane, Fields made probably the biggest shot of the game when she drained a 3 from in front of N.C. State's bench with the shot clock winding down to make it 75-69 with 46.9 seconds to play.
It was redemption for Fields, a sophomore who missed a pair of free throws for the lead with 19.8 seconds left in regulation.
"I felt like I let my team down at the end of the second half," said Fields, who finished with 14 points. "I wanted to come out with confidence, keep my head in the game and try to get it back in overtime."
Baylor didn't get closer than four points the rest of the way, falling short in a road game against a surging team playing on emotion.
"They were up against a lot of intangibles, and we all know that," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "They were up against seniors. They were up against Coach Yow's situation. And to bring a young group in that situation and for them to fight and claw and compete, it hurts."
The Lady Bears were trying to reach the round of 16 for the fourth straight year, which included their 2005 national championship season. Baylor certainly had its chances in this one, none better than after Fields' missed free throws. But Mosby came up short on a contested jumper at the regulation horn, giving the Wolfpack a second chance to put away the Lady Bears.
"We got it to Bernice," said sophomore Jessica Morrow, who had 13 points. "We got the shot we wanted. It just didn't fall."
Mosby played a day after learning that her family's home in Florida had burned down Sunday.