Wolfpack enjoying NCAA tournament moment, but wary of Aztecs

jgiglio@newsobserver.comMarch 13, 2012 

— There’s a dental-floss-thin line N.C. State’s trying to walk between soaking in all of the attention coming its way since Sunday’s NCAA tournament selection show and not letting it get to heads.

The video of N.C. State’s reaction to getting into the NCAA tournament, complete with a Whitney Houston soundtrack, has gone viral.

Several of coach Mark Gottfried’s former colleagues at ESPN are picking the Wolfpack to beat San Diego State on Friday and make a run in the NCAA tournament.

Even Las Vegas oddsmakers have taken notice, installing the Wolfpack, the No. 11 seed in the Midwest Regional, as a 2-point favorite over the sixth-seeded Aztecs in Friday’s second-round matchup in Columbus, Ohio (12:40 p.m., truTV).

Guard Alex Johnson became the unwitting star of the reaction video for his impromptu dance moves. He has taken some good-natured jabs from his teammates for his dancing, but he had an easy explanation for the outburst.

“We’re going dancing, so why not dance?” Johnson said.

Johnson said the Wolfpack is feeling the love with all of the extra attention, but there’s work to be done against the Aztecs (26-7).

“You’ve got to shut the TV off and focus on the first game,” Johnson said. “I’m sure San Diego State’s watching ESPN, saying, ‘They’re not going to beat us.’”

Gottfried got a big bear hug from forward DeShawn Painter after the Wolfpack’s name hit the CBS broadcast and had as much fun on Sunday as the players. Gottfried said he has appreciated all of the positive attention for the program since.

“Sunday night was big for our program,” Gottfried said. “Our players enjoyed that night. We have had a couple of days, but now we’ve got to get our minds right and get back to work.”

Junior guard Scott Wood said the extra attention for the program will be fleeting if the Pack doesn’t win on Friday.

“I’m sure a couple of extra people jumped on the bandwagon,” Wood said. “I guarantee once we lose, they’re going to be off.”

Gottfried is wary of the SDSU perimeter threats, Jamaal Franklin (17.2 points per game) and Chase Tapley (15.7 ppg), but he is less concerned about his own team’s tournament inexperience. Gottfried played in the tournament at Alabama, was an assistant at UCLA during its 1995 national title run and led both Murray State and Alabama into the NCAA tournament, but none of the players on the Wolfpack’s roster have experienced the tournament.

“They should enjoy the fact that’s the tournament, and it should be fun for them, but at the same time, it’s a business trip,” Gottfried said. “Just like when we went to Virginia Tech or Miami, you’ve got to go play.”

Forward C.J. Leslie, who led the Wolfpack with an average of 17.3 points per contest in three ACC tournament games, said the players aren’t interested in just making the tournament. They want to make a run.

“We know what we need to do,” Leslie said. “We need to come in with our heads focused and be prepared to win.”

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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