A Coach’s First Season: “We were totally Weeble Wobble today”
Updated with photos by Peggy Boone.
Above are video highlights from the NC State women’s basketball’s team 74-63 win over UNC-Chapel Hill Sunday afternoon in Chapel Hill. After the jump you’ll find a game story and post-game comments from NC State coach Kellie Harper. For a box score and game report, go to GoPack.com.
NC State 74, UNC-Chapel Hill 63
A couple of weeks ago NC State women’s basketball coach Kellie Harper was concerned about her team’s mental toughness. The Wolfpack would play well in the first half and build a lead, but the opposing team would make a run and they’d fall apart and lose. To encourage her players, Harper gave each one of them a Weeble Wobble and showed them a vintage commercial of the popular toy from the 1970s and 1980s. The jingle: “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.”
On Sunday afternoon, Harper says, NC State was “totally Weeble wobble.” The Pack fell behind early, came back to take a lead and fell behind again. But they outscored UNC-Chapel Hill 32-13 over the final 11 minutes to beat the Tar Heels 74-63 before more than 5,800 in Chapel Hill’s Carmichael Auditorium. Sophomore forward Bonae Holston had 20 points and nine rebounds to lead four NC State players in double digits. Freshman guard Marissa Kastanek added 17 points, six rebounds and five assists; junior Brittany Strachan, who made three of five 3-pointers, came off the bench to chip in 15 points and six rebounds; and redshirt junior guard Amber White had 10 points and five assists.
“We were knocked down early and bounced back. We got knocked down again and bounced back. We’ve shown a lot of resiliency,” Harper says. “In the last three games, we’ve shown some toughness and the ability to finish.”
After opening the ACC with a 73-45 win over Maryland on Jan. 7, NC State lost six of its next eight games and hovered at the bottom of the conference standings. On Feb. 14, in the Hoops 4 Hope game, NC State erased an early 12-point deficit to beat Miami 66-64 and followed that with a 73-62 win over Boston College.
Against UNC-Chapel Hill Sunday, the Pack found themselves down by seven, 8-1, just 3 minutes into the game; most of those points came off of rebounds by the Tar Heels. At that point, Harper yelled at White, “Tell [the team] they need to box out!” They started to, out-rebounding the Heels 23-20 and outscoring them 36-28 the rest of the half to go into the break up 37-36. During one stretch, Strachan, who scored 11 of her 15 points in the first half, made back-to-back 3-pointers and White added a layup in a 52-second span to put NC State up by eight. “[Strachan] gave us a huge spark when we needed it in the first half,” Harper says.
Out of halftime, though, the Tar Heels scored the first eight points to go ahead 44-37, and they maintained that lead over the next several minutes to lead 50-42 with 11:12. During a timeout, Harper told the players their body language didn’t look good, and they needed to change it. They did, Holston says. “I think it all started with the body language. Before, when we’d get knocked over, our body language would turn,” Holston says. “Once we got hit today, [Coach Harper] told us we needed to change our body language. We did, and it worked.
They outscored the Heels 32-13 the rest of the game and held them to just four second-half chance points after giving up 10 in the first half. During the final 11 minutes, Holston scored 10 of her 20 points and NC State had a 15-0 run in which Kastanek and redshirt sophomore Emili Tasler (6 points) combined for three 3-pointers. The Pack made 8 of 12 free throws in the final 6 minutes to help keep the Heels at bay.
Though NC State was noticeably undersized and continues to play without junior forward Tia Bell, who has a sprained knee, the Pack held the Tar Heels’ starting forwards (Laura Broomfield and Chay Shegog) to just seven points total. “One way we have to try to [deal with being undersized is to] play harder than our opponents. We have to be physical. We can’t back down,” Harper says. “I thought we were smart in our positioning to help control the paint. I think Lucy [Ellison] and Bonae [Holston] in particular really worked well together in our zone and did a really nice job. And our guards were putting on ball pressure to give them support.
“For us,” she adds, “we can’t win one-on-one. . . . It [takes] a total team effort for us to win.”
UNC-Chapel Hill (17-9, 5-7 ACC) shot just 35 percent from the floor (26 of 74) and made just 2 of 17 3-point attempts (11.8). NC State shot 47 percent (26 of 55) and scored 22 points off of the Heels’ 16 turnovers.
With the win, NC State improves its record to 16-11 overall and 6-6 in the ACC and jumps from ninth place to fifth place in the league standings.
The Pack wraps up its ACC schedule this week with an away game at Wake Forest Thursday night and a home game against Georgia Tech at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
Post-game interview with Kellie Harper
NC State magazine caught up with Coach Harper for a short interview after the game. Keep scrolling down for Coach Harper’s post-game comments in the press conference following the game.
There were a lot of NC State fans here, and many stayed late as you did your post-game radio interview and chanted your name. What was that like for you to hear?
I’m so thankful we were able to bring a lot of NC State fans over here. They don’t care what sport it is as long as NC State gets a win over Carolina, and that meant a lot to us and that they were supporting us and believing in us enough to make the trip.
How is your team different now than it was when it last played UNC-Chapel Hill on Jan. 25?
I think we’re a little more focused and probably more determined. We understand our strengths better and playing to those strengths betters. There are things technically we’re better at, but our whole attitude and demeanor is better.
The contributions of senior Lucy Ellison don’t always show up in the stat sheets and that seemed especially true against the Tar Heels. Talk about what she brings to the team.
Lucy is our unsung hero, and our team knows how much we need her and we all know how important to the team she is. I trust that she knows where she is supposed to be on the court. She’s physical. She plays defense. She screens. She rebounds. She does a lot of things that don’t show up on the stat sheets, but this kid is the kid you have to have on the court.
At the beginning of the season you talked about how there were going to be several “Whoa!” or cool moments throughout the season. Is this win one of those moments?
It’s a great moment to have this win. I think the thing that struck me the most is how bad our players wanted it and how excited they are to come in and get this win. I love all wins, but our players are thrilled. . . .
Coach Harper post-game comments
On her team’s play
I’m very excited for our team and our program. This is a very good win for us. I’m so proud of our players. It was a very physical game for us. . . . We really battled for 40 minutes, and it took all 40 of them. I’m really proud of our kids for the fight they showed.
On whether it was the biggest win of the season
I think every game is the biggest win we’ve had. I love winning. I think the kids will tell you that there is a huge difference in my mood when we win or when we lose. I do think it’s a huge win for us to build our confidence and to prove that our undersized kids can be effective.
On the play of Brittany Strachan
Brittany gave us a huge spark when we needed it in the first half. Obviously, the thing that comes to mind is the fact she can come in and hit 3s. But she was making other plays as well. She was getting the boards, getting a layup on a put back. I thought she did some really nice things for us and had a really good game. I think our team did a nice job of finding her. . . .
On the start of the second half
One of the biggest things we talked about is that we looked visibly frustrated. Our body language is not where it needed to be. The kids responded. They changed their body language, and they walked back out with much more confidence. We gave up too many offensive boards to start the second half, but we settled down again. Also we talked about our tempo. It was very slow to begin the second half. We speeded it up after that timeout, and I thought it was very beneficial to us.
On dealing with being outsized
One way we have to try to [deal with being undersized is to] play harder than our opponents. We have to be physical. We can’t back down. I thought we were smart and in our positioning to help control the paint. I think Lucy [Ellison] and Bonae [Holston] in particular really worked well together in our zone and did a really nice job. And our guards were putting on ball pressure to give them support. For us, we can’t win one-on-one. . . . It [takes] a total team effort for us to win.
Post-game comments from freshman guard Marissa Kastanek
On what’s ahead
After our Duke lost, we came together and said we could turn this around and we could finish very strong for the rest of the season. And with the wins that we’re compiling, I think our confidence is really high right now.
On the level of physical play
I’m pretty used to it, just as far as practices go. And physical games are what I kind of like. . . . I’ve been told the whole week that Carolina is going to be a great game because the crowd is going to be into it and that I just needed to keep my head up. . . .
On bouncing back
I carry my Weeble wobble with me in my backpack. . . . It just reminds me, and I got that little theme song running around in my head. “We wobble but we don’t fall down.” And I think that was a big thing that really helps us. They made a run, and I knew if we didn’t turn around at that point, and if we didn’t get back up, that we were going to be in trouble. And to hear Kellie say, and Brittany [Strachan] is another one who really gets on us about body language, we just knew that, “OK. Stop. We got this. We got this.”
On making the transition to point guard
It’s getting there. I’m still working on it. Kim [Durham], Emili [Tasler] and Amber [White]—everybody is helping me—with the position with the ball and where I need to be. This is so much different than high school. Then I could dribble out and be relaxed with the ball. I’m still in the process of learning how to take care of it.