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Thin Pack hopes to continue ‘amazing’ season at ACC Tournament

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DD Rogers has had a breakthrough senior season for the Wolfpack.
DD Rogers has had a breakthrough senior season for the Wolfpack. (Brian Rapp/The Wolfpacker)

“What they’ve done this year has been pretty amazing.”

Wes Moore’s comment about his NC State women’s basketball team’s accomplishments so far in this 2018-19 season may be an understatement, considering:

· The Pack finished the regular season Sunday with a 70-68 win at home against 15th-ranked Miami, for a 25-4 record. The 25 wins is the most in the regular season in the history of the program.

· The win snapped a three-game losing streak to the ’Canes and ensured NC State the No. 3 seed for this week’s ACC Tournament — the Pack’s highest since 2005.

· The Pack’s 12-4 conference record ties it for the most wins in a 16-game conference schedule with the 2016-17 squad.

And the Pack achieved all this despite having four players — including three starters — sidelined for the season with knee injuries. State played the final six games with graduate senior Kiara Leslie and junior Ace Konig the only players who started from the beginning of the season.

“I am so proud of what they’ve done,” said Moore, who’s been named a candidate for both conference and national Coach of the Year honors.

“To lose four players and still finish in the top three in the ACC — they’ve just battled and competed every night, and been very resilient.”

Despite going 4-4 after starting the season with a record 21-game wining streak, the Pack still managed to earn critical wins against the Hurricanes, Syracuse (77-73 on Feb. 13) and UNC (74-69 on Feb. 24, in Chapel Hill, avenging the Heels 64-51 win in Raleigh that snapped the streak on Feb. 3).

Notre Dame proved to have too much firepower in the 14th annual Play4Kay game on Feb. 18, handing the Pack a 95-72 defeat, and Louisville senior guard Asia Durr celebrated her senior night at home by torching the Pack for a career best-tying 47 points in a 92-62 drubbing on Feb. 28, the largest margin of defeat in Moore’s six years in Raleigh.

That loss dropped NC State and Miami into a tie for third in the ACC, with the game this past Sunday determining the third and fourth seeds for the tournament.

In a contest that featured nine lead changes and seven ties, the Pack fought back from a 10-point first-half deficit to win its home finale. Fittingly, senior forward DD Rogers led the effort with a career-high 21 points and added 14 rebounds in her Senior Day farewell.

“It was just how things worked out,” Rogers said of her career effort in her finale regular-season game. “They were playing off me quite a bit.”

“I’m very happy for her,” Moore said after the game. “Nowadays with all the transfers you see with people who maybe don’t like playing time, she could have looked around and not been happy with not playing as much as she maybe would have liked.

“But she kept working, carved out a little niche for herself, started every game this year and had a great senior season. It’s great to see someone rewarded for having perseverance and working hard.”

The Pack senior said the team is in “a good place” heading into this week’s conference showdown in Greensboro, with NC State’s double-bye as a top-four seed allowing the Pack to begin play in the quarterfinals Friday at 8 p.m.

“I feel like people have kind of found themselves more and gotten into a groove with their game and how they can help the team,” she said.

“We did great things this season, even though the winning streak ended earlier than we wanted it to. I think we’ve definitely done a good job of trying to stay positive and keep playing. We’ve fought through a lot and kept trying to win.”



High seed in ACC Tournament also comes with tough draw

Though the Pack’s efforts in spite of this season’s adversities have rewarded NC State with its best ACC Tournament seed in 14 years, head coach Wes Moore is well aware of the challenge his group faces in now having to play back-to-back games with its depleted roster.

The Pack opens play Friday against one of three opponents to be decided from games played Wednesday and Thursday. Duke (14-14 overall, 6-10 in the ACC), the No. 11 seed, meets Pitt (11-19, 2-14), the No. 14 seed, in a first-round game Wednesday, with the winner facing No. 6 seed Florida State (22-7, 10-6) Thursday. That winner meets the Pack Friday.

Should NC State avenge its earlier 75-70 loss to the Seminoles, it will probably have to face defending ACC champ Louisville, the No. 2 seed, in Saturday’s semifinals, with No. 1 seed Notre Dame the probable opponent in Sunday’s championship.

“At this point you just aren’t sure who you’re playing,” Moore said Tuesday, “so it makes it tough to prepare. There’s so much parity in this league this year — for that matter, in women’s basketball nationally — that you really have to do the old cliché and take it a game at a time.”

Having the No. 3 seed is also somewhat of a double-edged sword, as Moore pointed out.

“We play the last game Friday, which means not finishing until maybe as late as 10 p.m., depending on how much the earlier games get backed up,” he said. “Then we play the semifinal Saturday at 2:30 p.m., which isn’t much of a turnaround. If we’d been the No. 4 seed we’d have played the first game Friday [11 a.m.], and we’d have had an hour or so to go through our usual pre-game routine.

“I also feel the team that has a game under its belt does have an advantage. You’ve gotten rid of the jitters and gotten comfortable playing on that court.

“I always feel that team has the definite advantage in the first half when they play a team that’s in its first game. You just hope the fact you’re more rested helps you adjust in the second half.”

Moore planned to hold light practices in Raleigh Tuesday and Wednesday, utilizing the team’s male practice players, before heading to Greensboro Thursday.

“We’ll do a 30-minute shootaround at the Coliseum, then maybe do some walk-through and non-contact stuff somewhere else,” he said. “We’ll do what we can to be as rested as possible.”

Still, the Pack’s injuries have meant little rest for the five starters, who are all averaging over 33 minutes a game since ACC play started. Sophomore forward Kayla Jones, the primary sub, is averaging 18 minutes playing time, and freshmen Esra McGoldrick and Jada Rice have seen action in recent games after less than three minutes of court time through most of the season.

“It depends on the matchups for how much we rotate players,” the coach commented. “As [former Texas football coach and AD] Darrell Royal used to say, ‘We’ll dance with the ones that brung us.’”



Notes

• Freshman center Elissa Cunane was named the ACC Rookie of the Week for the fourth time this season on March 4. Cunane, who’s averaging 13.1 points and 5.9 rebounds a contest this season, averaged 14 points and seven boards in the Pack’s two games against Louisville and Miami. The Pack freshman has earned the most Rookie honors in a season since Tynesha Lewis was named a program-record six times in 1997-98.

• Cunane and graduate senior guard Kiara Leslie were both named to the All-ACC teams released Tuesday. Leslie was selected by both the ACC Blue Ribbon Panel and coaches for first-team honors and was named to the ACC All-Defense team.

Cunane was chosen by both groups for the All-Freshman team. She is the first Pack player named to the conference freshman team since Marissa Kastanek in 2010.

Leslie is the second player in Moore’s tenure to be named to the ACC All-Defense team, joining 2018 honoree Akela Maize. The Player, Rookie and Coach of the Year honors were to be announced today and tomorrow.

• NC State was ranked No. 9 in the latest AP Poll, giving the Pack nine weeks of top-10 ranking this season. The Pack was also listed as a No. 2 seed in the latest (March 3) bracket predictions by ESPN’s Charlie Crème with No. 7 seed Texas, No. 10 Auburn and a No. 15 seed from the Atlantic-10 Conference.

The NCAA traditionally awards first- and second-round tournament games to the 16 teams ranked as No. 1 through 4 seeds, which, if it stands, should give NC State two home games again for this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Crème’s bracketology also has NC State playing its regional games in Greensboro.

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