N.C. State looked like a solid underdog in its conference opener when the ACC women’s basketball schedule was released.
But with a 13-1 start under new coach Wes Moore, the Wolfpack looks ready for anybody.
N.C. State brings a seven-game win streak into Sunday’s 2 p.m. Reynolds Coliseum contest with No. 20 Syracuse (11-2), which plays its first ACC conference game with twins Briana and Bria Day from Millbrook High also playing their first conference game.
The three Triangle teams open ACC play Sunday. No. 10 UNC (12-2) has a seven-game win streak as it hosts No. 8 Maryland (12-1) at 3 p.m. at Carmichael Arena (ESPNU) as the Terps begin their final ACC season. And No. 3 Duke (13-1) visits Georgia Tech (10-3) at 2 p.m.
“It’s a very critical game for us,” Moore said. “Now we start over 0-0. This is one of the teams picked above us in the league. With it being our home court, we have to hold serve.”
The Day twins originally committed to UNC, but decided to look again before Syracuse called.
“Every time we would go and see one of our prospects they were playing against them,” Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said of the 6-4 Days. “When word got out they were possibly getting out of their commitment we already had a good evaluation of them. And we needed post players.”
Briana Day, who has come off the bench in every game, averages 5.7 points and 6.0 rebounds.
“It’s exciting,” she said of the debut. “I can’t wait to be back home. We played against (Athens Drive alumna and N.C. State center Markeisha Gatling) in a scrimmage before my freshman year (at Millbrook). She’s bigger than we are. But we can work around that and do the best we can on defense.”
Bria has played in five games, averaging 2.2 points and 1.4 rebounds.
“Not playing is difficult, but you want your team to win no matter what,” Bria said. “Coach knows best. You just have to keep working hard and not get discouraged. You know your time will come, and you just support your teammates in every way possible.”
Brittney Sykes, a 5-9 sophomore guard, leads Syracuse with 19.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, followed by 5-11 sophomore guard Brianna Butler (15.7, 3.3) and 6-3 senior center Shakeya Leary (10.0, 8.8).
“They’re a very good team and we’re excited to play them on our court,” N.C. State senior forward Kody Burke said of the Orange. “We just need to stay focused and share the ball. We’re trusting Coach Moore’s system more and more each game.”
The 6-5 senior Gatling (16.1, 5.6) leads N.C. State, followed by Burke at 14.0 and 5.4.
“It’s about hard work, man,” Gatling said. “In practice and in games we’re finally getting what coach Moore wants. We’re still underdogs going into ACC play, because people have underestimated us. But we’re ready.”
UNC will continue to play without coach Sylvia Hatchell on the sidelines as she undergoes treatment for leukemia. But she attends team meetings and has been watching home games from a media box about 20 feet above the court.
UNC has frequently started sophomore all-conference returnee Xylina McDaniel along with four members of the No. 1-ranked freshman class.
“I think we’re prepared for the ACC,” said veteran assistant Andrew Calder, directing in Hatchell’s absence. “They’re playing for (Hatchell) and they’re playing for themselves. They’re committed, they’re listening, and they’re doing everything we ask them to do.”
Freshmen Diamond DeShields (15.1, 4.7), Allisha Gray (14.8, 5.2), Stephanie Mavunga (13.7, 10.0) and McDaniel (12.9, 6.4) lead UNC.
Alyssa Thomas (17.6, 11.2), last season’s ACC player of the year who is picked to repeat, paces Maryland with freshman Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (11.1, 3.1).
“I’m really excited because we’re playing them just once,” McDaniel said. “I didn’t play well against them last year, so I want to redeem myself. Thomas is preseason player of the year – it wasn’t one of us, so that’s motivation.”
Duke has an unlikely 35-game streak against Georgia Tech, but coach Joanne P. McCallie isn’t expecting a cakewalk.
“Georgia Tech’s really good,” McCallie said. “They’ve got that super freshman (6-2 guard Kaela Davis), and Ty Marshall is really good. They’ve got great guard play and they’re very athletic. They like to press and run, with a lot of broken-play activity.”
Davis (18.5, 6.5), Marshall (17.2, 7.8) and Sydney Wallace (10.3, 2.0) lead Tech.
Duke has five in double figures including Tricia Liston (17.4, 5.8), Elizabeth Williams (13.3, 6.0), Alexis Jones (13.0, 4.5), Haley Peters (12.8, 7.9) and Chelsea Gray (12.1, 4.9).
Junior center Williams said she just wants to get conference play started right.
“We just need to be smart, especially defensively,” Williams said. “We’ve got to cut the gaps off and locate shooters.”