NC State

Picked 10th in the ACC? 3 things coaches got wrong about NC State women's basketball

North Carolina State's Kaila Ealey (2) greets teammates as she leaves the court in the final moments of a second-round game in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament against Maryland in Raleigh, N.C., Sunday, March 18, 2018. North Carolina State defeated Maryland 74-60.
North Carolina State's Kaila Ealey (2) greets teammates as she leaves the court in the final moments of a second-round game in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament against Maryland in Raleigh, N.C., Sunday, March 18, 2018. North Carolina State defeated Maryland 74-60. AP

Can you blame other ACC women's basketball coaches for picking N.C. State 10th in the preseason poll?

The Wolfpack was losing four starters from a team that had gone 23-9, finished fourth in the ACC and won one NCAA tournament game.

A step backward would've been understandable.

Instead, coach Wes Moore's team is 26-8, finished tied for fourth in the ACC, earned the right to host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament and won them both.

Next up for the 4-seed Wolfpack (26-8) is the Sweet 16 on Friday at 7 p.m. against 1-seed Mississippi State (34-1) in the Kansas City regional.

"Maybe there was a mix-up and they thought they were voting for the national polls," Moore joked on Wednesday. "We lost a lot. We lost four starters, four of our top five scorers. We lost a lot of production, a lot of question marks, a lot of young guards who hadn't been in an significant role, so I could understand that. This team just really stepped up."

Here's what the preseason coaches poll got wrong about the Wolfpack.

Guard play held its own

Last year, Kaila Ealey and Aislinn (Ace) Konig combined for zero starts and averaged just 10.0 points per game.

The sophomores were thrust into major roles this year, but both became more complete players.

Ealey started all 34 games and averaged 8.9 points per game. A defensive stopper who leads the team in steals, her outside shot improved greatly and is shooting 31.1 percent from 3.

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"I couldn't be prouder of anyone more than Kaila Ealey. She just works so hard to bring her game along, particularly from a 3-point perspective and from perimeter play," Moore said. "She's always been quick and get to the rim but she's had some big games for us, where if teams try to sag off her a little bit she can make them pay."

Known as a 3-point specialist, Konig has delivered, making 34.4 percent of her 3-pointers to lead the team. She's third in scoring with 10.4 points per game, but she's been a reliable defensive player as well.

In the Round of 32 against Maryland, Konig held one of the nation's top 10 3-point shooters, Kristen Confroy, to an 0-of-2 shooting day from 3 and without a point.

And then there's Kiara Leslie, who starts a third guard or small forward.

After transferring from Maryland, where injuries had limited her to no more than 4.4 points or 11.3 minutes per game in two seasons of play, she rejuvenated her career as a redshirt junior and is the Wolfpack's top defender, second leading scorer and second leading rebounder.

This team gets stops

The Wolfpack is a middle-of-the-road shooting team and the same goes for forcing turnovers.

But when you hit the glass with the best of them — eighth in the country in rebound margin (+9.8) and 15th in rebounds per game (42.4) — other problems go away.

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Four players average five or more rebounds per game, including 5-9 point guard Ealey (5.2). All-ACC senior forward Chelsea Nelson and senior Akela Maize — who, like Konig and Ealey, had never started a game until this season and became an everyday starter — gave the Pack one of the top front courts in the ACC.

The Pack was at its best in getting stops in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, holding Elon to 23.5 percent shooting and Maryland to 37.3 percent.

Good, old-fashioned attitude

Moore got emotional when talking about how late N.C. State coach Kay Yow would've like this team because of its never-say-die attitude.

He likes to bring up a regular-season meeting with Louisville in which the Cardinals jumped out to a 26-1 lead. State clawed its way back into the game and got as close as four before falling 55-47 at home.

"That's the way they are," Moore said. "They ignore the noise and keep coming."

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