Wolfpack women hope to continue impressive season

CorrespondentDecember 26, 2013 

— Few could have guessed the N.C. State women’s basketball team would be this good this soon.

Wes Moore’s Wolfpack is 11-1 as it enjoys a break between Friday’s impressive 89-79 win against No. 12 Louisiana State at Reynolds Coliseum and a meeting Saturday with Kansas State in the San Diego Surf ’n Slam Tournament.

The Wolfpack, 17-17 last season, was picked to finish 10th in the ACC but is off to its best start in 14 years and knocking on the door of the nation’s top 25.

N.C. State is 8-0 at Reynolds, including a 69-55 win against a good Tulane team Nov. 24. The resume includes a 67-49 win against UCLA at the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Fla., and a 76-61 win at Northwestern in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

The only loss was a 99-90 defeat to Wright State on the first day of the three-day Gulf Coast Showcase.

“I think the kids have bought in,” said Moore, a 15-year coach at Chattanooga where he won nine Southern Conference tournaments. “We’ve got five seniors and a couple of juniors who are probably hungry and want to turn things around. They’re unselfish and share the basketball well.”

Those seniors include starters Markeisha Gatling (6-foot-5) in the middle, Kody Burke (6-2) in a new spot as a shooter on the wing and Myisha Goodwin-Coleman as the two-guard. Lakeesa Daniel (6-4) spells Gatling as a quicker presence inside, and Breezy Williams is a top reserve as a wing guard.

Junior Len’Nique Brown starts at the point while classmate Krystal Barrett is a starting combo guard.

“We start with Keisha Gatling,” said Moore (569-170), who is in his fourth head coaching job and was a Wolfpack assistant under the late Kay Yow in 1993-95. “We definitely want to work inside-out. She’s played well. She’s shooting the ball extremely well and doing some good things inside, and that opens some things up for everybody else.

“I think Kody has shot the ball well the last several games, which helps keep the post defense honest. Krystal has played extremely well. Len’Nique has done a good job taking care of the basketball and her assist-to-turnover ratio is good. We’re still a work in progress defensively, but they’ve been coachable and they’ve worked hard.”

The intimidating Gatling (15.0 points, 5.2 rebounds per game), who was the most recent ACC Player of the Week, is N.C. State’s only player with no 3-point shooting responsibilities.

“We’re working hard in practice and it’s showing on the court,” said Gatling, a junior college transfer out of Athens Drive High in her second season with the Wolfpack. “We’re working harder on the outside, fronting the post and being aggressive on defense. I think that intimidates people.

“Last season I got better after I decided not to try to create shots for other people and just to score. When I get the ball, if nobody comes to help I’m supposed to score one-on-one. I think I can be the best post player in the ACC. I should have done that last year.”

Burke (14.1, 4.9), an academic All-American from Northridge, Calif., is 8-for-24 from outside the arc and has hit 87.8 percent of her free-throw attempts. She has been one of N.C. State’s go-to players ever since former coach Kellie Harper brought her to Raleigh, and was a 51.9 percent free-throw shooter as a freshman.

“We’re buying into coach Moore’s system,” said Burke, who said she considered the win against UCLA a high point of her career since she grew up a Bruins fan and the school didn’t recruit her. “He has a great philosophy. We’re all understanding our roles within the system and just executing well.

“My role is different. I’m out in the perimeter a lot more. It requires me to stay in the triple-threat and attack off the dribble a lot more and work on my pull-up jumper as opposed to having my back near the basket or facing the basket.”

Burke said she was a bit apprehensive when a new coach came in for her senior year, but Moore quickly assuaged her concerns.

“It was hard at first,” Burke said. “Kellie was the coach who recruited me. I was concerned when coach Moore came in because he didn’t recruit me and I was hoping he’d like me.”

Miah Spencer, who backs up Brown at the point, said she had been enthusiastic about the possibility of playing for Harper but was relieved when she found out Moore was the replacement.

“We have a lot of talent, but we know if we play together we can go a long way,” said Spencer, who averages 9.0 points and 3.8 rebounds in 20.8 minutes a game. “We still need to improve on listening to what coach has to say and not making him repeat things he said two weeks ago.

“We’re going to be in the NCAA (tournament). Oh, yeah. I feel it coming.”

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