To get to get to the Sweet 16, N.C. State redshirt junior Kiara Leslie will have to knock out her alma mater.
Leslie and the No. 4 seed Wolfpack won their first-round NCAA tournament game 62-35 over No. 13 Elon Friday at Reynolds Coliseum, setting up Sunday's second-round game against No. 5 Maryland (26-7), which won the early game 77-57 over No. 12 Princeton.
Leslie — the younger sister of former Wolfpack men's player C.J. — redshirted last season at Maryland due to an ankle injury, and finished up her degree in criminology and criminal justice this summer. NCAA rules allow graduate transfers to play right away, so the Holly Springs native suited up for the Pack this year.
"Let me say this: Maryland was great to work with during the (transfer) process," Wolfpack coach Wes Moore said. "They paid for her summer school so she could graduate. She graduated in three years which is why she has two years eligibility left, because she redshirted with an injury. They were great every step of the way working with us. It is kind of ironic, obviously with us playing them. Sometimes the committee has a weird sense of humor and they do stuff like this. It's really crazy."
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Leslie said she expected to play against her former teammates at some point, perhaps in next year's ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
Instead, it comes less than a year after she left College Park, and with both teams' seasons on the line.
"It's just another game that we have to come ready to play," Leslie said. "I feel like I have an advantage since I know some of the tendencies, some of the plays, so I'm just excited for Sunday."
Moore hopes it will be that easy for Leslie to stay within herself in an otherwise emotional, if awkward, reunion.
"I can't sit here and tell you how she'll respond," Moore said. "I hope she just thinks: here's my scout, here's my matchup, here's what I have to do. I'm sure she's friends with a lot of those girls, but hopefully she can block that out and just play basketball without getting caught up in the emotion of it."
N.C. State (25-8) hasn't yet reached the Sweet 16 of the women's tournament since 2007, when the late Kay Yow was still head coach.
"Obviously it would be great," Moore said of reaching the tournament's third round. "We lost four seniors last year that were great leaders, great players — four of our top five scorers — and I think everyone felt like this would be kind of a rebuilding year, if you want to call it that."
State led Elon 27-17 at halftime as the Pack held the Phoenix to 22.7 percent shooting and forced 11 turnovers. The margin stayed in double-digits the entire second half as Elon finished the game shooting 23.5 percent.
When State's Erika Cassell, a reserve who had just two 3-pointers this season, scored eight points in a three-minute span with two 3s and a long jumper with her foot on the 3-point line, the game all but done with less than seven minutes left, allowing Moore to rest his starters.
Leslie had a team-high 13 points in the win. Aislinn Konig added 12 points and Chelsea Nelson had 12 rebounds.
It was the second meeting this year between the two schools. State won 70-57 on Dec. 16. Elon (25-8), coached by former North Carolina star player Charlotte Smith, was the Colonial Athletic Association tournament champ.