A Coach’s First Season: The First Loss

November 15, 2009
By Cherry Crayton


The Wolfpack women’s basketball team struggled against Vermont’s zone defense and lost 52-47 Saturday night in the finals of the Sheraton Raleigh Wolfpack Invitational at Reynolds Coliseum. Junior point guard Amber White talks about the loss in the video above. The result gives Coach Kellie Harper her first career loss at NC State.

“Well, I’m quite disappointed. I don’t take losing very well,” said Harper, who picked up her first career victory, in her first game, at NC State Friday night when her team beat Florida International 87-71. “Vermont is a very, very good basketball team. . . . It [was] a tough matchup for us right now.”

The Catamounts, the pre-season favorite in the America East conference, controlled the pace most of the game, slowing it down and forcing NC State to run its zone offense out of a half-court set. The Wolfpack had 21 turnovers, which Vermont converted into 22 points, and shot just 37 percent from the floor (20 of 54) and 13 percent from the 3-point line (2 of 15). They also scored just 6 points in transition, 18 points in the paint and 11 points off turnovers. ( Against Florida International Friday night, they scored 23 points in transition, 38 points in the paint and 42 points off turnovers.)

“We couldn’t get good passing angles all night long, and we kept playing East and West and didn’t go North and South,” Harper said. “And we looked a little unsure in our zone offense.”

NC State missed eight of its first 11 shots and had six turnovers in the first 10 minutes as Vermont built its largest lead of the game at 19-8 with 10:35 left in the opening half. “I thought the biggest advantage we would have had would be our energy. And we didn’t bring it to start the game,” Harper said.

Junior forward Tia Bell scored NC State’s final 7 points, including a 3-pointer with 22 seconds left in the half, to cut the Catamount’s lead to 28-26 at the break. Bell finished with 9 points and 7 rebounds.

Forty-six seconds into the second half, NC State senior forward Lucy Ellison (7 points, 7 rebounds) scored on a layup to tie the score at 28. After a Vermont free throw, sophomore forward Bonae Holston scored off an offensive rebound to give the Wolfpack its first lead of the game, at 30-29, since freshman Marissa Kastanek’s opening basket.

But NC State ran into foul trouble and couldn’t knock down timely free throws or shots. Holston, who scored 8 points and had 9 rebounds, fouled out with 4:21 left in the game. The Catamounts made 12 of 21 free throws, including 8 of 15 in the second half and 3 of 3 in the final 30 seconds. The Wolfpack shot just 7 free throws during the game, making 5 and missing 2 in the final 1:35.

“We, obviously, are still learning, and we have a lot of things we can do better and we will do better,” Harper said. “There’s no doubt this team will improve because they’ll come back ready to practice tomorrow and work on the things we need to work on.”

Senior guard Nikitta Gartrell led NC State with 10 points. May Kotsopoulos led Vermont with 21 points, and Courtnay Pilypaitis added 15 points.

Note: For the third straight game, going back to the Nov. 2 exhibition against North Greenville, freshman guard Marissa Kastanek scored the opening basket in the game. She finished with 7 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists.

Comments from Coach Harper
What are your thoughts on the game?
Well, I’m quite disappointed. I don’t take losing very well. Vermont is a very, very good basketball team, first of all. They’re a proven winning team. They’re very intelligent. They pass the ball well. They know their roles, and they’re efficient. It’s a tough matchup for us right now. It took us a little too long for us to get our energy to where it needed to be. We, obviously, are still learning, and we have a lot of things we can do better and we will do better. There’s no doubt this team will improve because they’ll come back ready to practice tomorrow and work on the things we need to work on.

How much do you feel that last night’s game against Florida International had an effect on tonight’s performance?

Well, they played more minutes than we did last night as far as they’re starters. Some of their kids played more than 30 minutes a game. At this point in the season, I don’t think fatigue needs to be a factor. In the great scheme of things, you don’t get many chances to play the game. You practice or you wait around for games. When you take the court, you’ve got to be so excited and have so much energy that you’re not tired. And, I’m not going to have that excuse for our team.

What was it about Vermont’s zone defense that was effective?
Vermont’s players are very sharp, and they played angles. We couldn’t get good passing angles all night long. And we kept playing East and West and didn’t go North and South. We were able to get to the basket some against Florida International. We only shoot 7 free throws tonight. Our team needs to get to the free throw line. Obviously, quite a bit more than that. And we looked a little unsure in our zone offense. . . . [Vermont] was a bad matchup for us. We knew that before the game that it wasn’t a great matchup for us, but you’ve got to play the games and you’ve got to go out and play the very best. We’ll learn from it. I know I’ve said it, but we’ll learn from it.

Was there an advantage you thought you would have had tonight that just wasn’t there?
I thought the biggest advantage we would have had would be our energy. And we didn’t bring it to start the game. So that’s tough. They’re a great passing team, and if you don’t bring the energy, they’ll pick you apart and they’ll find two players that can score a truckload of points.

What happened to the energy? Why wasn’t it there tonight?
I’m not sure. We were a little concerned during player introductions that our body language wasn’t what it needed to be. For whatever reason. I don’t know why those things happen, but we have to have players step up and get us out of that. We’ve got to get players on board.

What are the positives to take from this game?
The No. 1 positive is that we just played bad, and we had a chance to win against a very good basketball team. That’s the No. 1 positive. I struggle to say that because I’m not into moral victories. But we are still learning, and we will let this one hurt tonight, but tomorrow we will be all about getting better and we’ll find something that we’ll build on. Unforced turnovers—that’s something that we can clean up, and that makes a huge difference in this basketball game. . . . We’re not really playing to our strengths yet and that’s something that in time and the more we play together, the more we’ll be able to do that.

Other positives?

They scored 52 points. That’s really not bad. If we can hold teams to 52, we should be able to win. I did not like the fact that they were able to get 12 offensive boards versus our 13 offensive boards. That’s a number that our team will be very familiar with. We fouled too much, but there are a lot of things we did well to hold them to 52 points.

Do you anticipate seeing more zone defenses in future games?
Oh, we absolutely anticipate zone. We knew it was coming tonight, and we actually practiced it today. We’ll work out on it. Our kids, when they take the court on Tuesday night, will hopefully feel very confident with anything and everything we’ll be doing against the zone.

You played for a program accustomed to winning, and every time you stepped on the court you expected to win and were shocked if you didn’t. Will you be able to instill that attitude here?
We’ll see. That’s another thing. I can’t go in there and tell these kids that I want to win every game and then walk into tonight and say, “Good try.” I expect to be the best. And while I’m realistic and understand the probability of us winning every game is slim to none, gosh, you still have to expect to win. You’ll never win if you don’t expect to win every time you take the court. They’ll feel it from their coaching staff, and they’ll know how badly we want to win. And we will have a game plan that they can believe in every single time that we step out on the court.

Comments from redshirt junior point guard Amber White
Do you feel that attitude is reflected in the players as well? That you guys are as frustrated with losing as the coaching staff?
Definitely. You can see it when we do drills and when we practice that nobody wants to lose. It’s never a good feeling to lose. The biggest thing here is just to learn from our mistakes and try to carry that over and make a better effort. One of the things we’ve talked about is our energy, and we found energy late in the game. And I think that was probably our biggest problem. That coincides with everything. Like coach said, that’s the biggest thing, and when we bring that, we’re not a half-step too slow. I think that’s the biggest thing. You can see it in our faces that we’re not as happy when we lose. We’re not taking it, “Oh well, we lost.” A lot of people on the team are really upset about it. . . . I hope to never feel like this again.

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