NC State women battle Kentucky in NCAA Tournament
What’s one way to beat a pressing team? Not letting them score is a start.
N.C. State shut down Kentucky to start the fourth quarter, and that gave the Wolfpack all the breathing room it needed to advance to the Sweet 16 with a 72-57 win at Reynolds Coliseum.
N.C. State, the No. 3 seed in the Greensboro Region of the NCAA women’s tournament, will face second-seeded Iowa on Saturday at the Greensboro Coliseum. It’s the Wolfpack’s second straight trip to a regional semifinal, the first time in back-to-back years since 1991.
The Wolfpack will return to Greensboro for the second time this month after playing two games in the ACC tournament March 8-9.
“This is a bigger stage than the ACC tournament, but I’m still excited to play in front of the home crowd,” said freshman forward Elissa Cunane, who grew up outside of Greensboro. “I know a lot of fans from Raleigh will make the trip. That’s just credit to Wolfpack Nation. We love them and just playing there, I think it’s going to be a great atmosphere for us.”
N.C. State led 53-48 heading into the fourth, but the Wolfpack defense was relentless in the final quarter, especially the first four minutes. The Wildcats started the fourth quarter 0-for-7 from the field as N.C. State increased its lead to 12 after a free throw from Cunane.
The Wolfpack held Kentucky to 3-for-16 from the field in the fourth and most importantly, kept the Wildcats off the offensive glass. Kentucky only had four offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter. That’s where the Wildcats (25-8) got a bunch of their points through the first three quarters.
But N.C. State (28-5) controlled the glass and the scoreboard to knock out Kentucky and advance to its 13th appearance in the Sweet 16 and their second in a row. With the win, the Wolfpack improved to 16-2 in the NCAA Tournament in Raleigh.
N.C. State also extended its home non-conference win streak to 29 games.
“I thought our two seniors set the tone with some toughness and this freshman (Cunane) isn’t too bad either,” Wolfpack head coach Wes Moore said. “I’m proud of the whole team. They just keep amazing me.”
Kiara Leslie led N.C. State with 26 points and 10 rebounds. Cunane finished with 13 points and 15 board, while DD Rogers added 11 and 11, giving the Wolfpack three players with double doubles. Kai Crutchfield finished with 11.
“How can you not be impressed with the Wolfpack tonight,” Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “They were well coached, tough. Gave tremendous effort and hustle, I thought we did too, but they came out on top tonight and we wish them well going forward.”
N.C. State couldn’t have asked for a better start to the game. N.C. State led by as many as 10, sparked by Leslie, who had eight of the first 25 Wolfpack points.
Kentucky ended the quarter by missing four straight field goals, but got a bail out to end the quarter. Jaida Roper was fouled and the officials had to check the monitor to decide if the whistle was blown before or after the horn sounded.
It was determined that Roper was fouled before the quarter ended, and the Wildcats got two bonus free throws with no time on the clock, pulling to within eight.
Kentucky started the second quarter on a 5-0 run before Leslie ended the spurt with a jumper from the elbow.
Kentucky outscored the Wolfpack 13-10 in the second quarter as freshman forward Rhyne Howard found her scoring touch. Howard (21 points) went for seven of the Wildcats’ 13 points and Kentucky managed to stay within striking distance, trailing by five at the break.
This was the sixth meeting between the two schools and neither school had won two in a row. N.C. State last played Kentucky in 1995.