N.C. State hasn’t been the most intimidating team in ACC women’s basketball this season, but there has never been any doubt of the Wolfpack’s grit.
Picked to finish ninth in the preseason poll, the Wolfpack (19-10, 10-6 ACC) is the No. 6 seed heading into Thursday’s 8 p.m. second-round game against the winner of Wednesday’s first-round contest between No. 11 seed Virginia Tech (17-12, 5-11) and No. 14 seed Boston College (14-15, 2-14).
The Wolfpack, led by a solid junior class that includes four starters, has been competitive in all but three games this season. But what’s kept coach Wes Moore’s team from being a lock in the NCAA tournament has been four losses by a combined 12 points on their temporary home court at Broughton High.
“The games that are on me are the close losses at home against ranked teams (Louisville, Syracuse and Florida State),” Moore said. “I felt like we did a good job on the road in the conference, and I was very pleased with that. Hopefully that will help us as we go into the ACC tournament. We went 5-3 on the road and that’s pretty tough to have to maneuver through, especially in this conference.”
N.C. State’s biggest wins this season include a 65-62 victory on Jan. 14 at Duke and a pair of romps (a 78-49 home win on Jan. 31 and a 80-66 win Feb. 21 in Chapel Hill) against a struggling North Carolina team. Both Duke and UNC, however, are having rougher than expected seasons, which means the Wolfpack may have a lot of work to do to impress the NCAA selection committee.
N.C. State is perimeter-oriented, with its primary leadership coming from junior guards Dominique Wilson (15.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg), Miah Spencer (13.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg), walk-on Ashley Williams (6.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg) and 6-1 forward Jennifer Mathurin (11.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg).
Spencer became the Wolfpack’s principal point guard this season after being a shooting guard for most of her first two seasons.
“In all the close games we’ve lost. We just haven’t been able to capitalize and finish,” Spencer said. “We have to play at the end of the game how we were playing at the beginning of the game. We have to focus for the whole 40 minutes.
“We just can’t take an opponent lightly, or figure ‘We beat them twice, and we’re just going to beat them.’ Maybe that happened last year against Virginia Tech. Postseason is different because everybody is on their toes. We can’t be looking ahead against anybody.”
The Wolfpack this season had its best recruiting class in years, but because the team didn’t have many blowout games early on, the freshmen didn’t play as many minutes as Moore had hoped.
“Whether or not we shoot well is always important,” Wilson said. “Some people might say we rely on the 3, and we have a lot of good shooters. But we can’t just rely on shooting all the time. We have to rebound and play good defense.
N.C. State finished the regular season on a high note by fighting off an inspired last-place Clemson team with a 71-57 road win Sunday after playing nip-and-tuck with the Tigers until the closing minutes.
N.C. State beat both of their potential ACC tournament opponents — Virginia Tech and Boston College — in their sole regular-season matchups, derailing the Hokies 72-61 Jan. 21 on the road and topping the Eagles 74-63 on Feb. 11 in Raleigh.
The win at Virginia Tech was huge, as the Hokies had been on a 12-game win streak at home and had shocked the Wolfpack 57-56 in the opening round of the last season’s ACC tournament.
No. 6 N.C. State vs. No. 11 Virginia Tech or No. 14 Boston College
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro