First-year Wolfpack women’s basketball coach Kellie Harper said she was looking forward to this night. A rivalry game: UNC vs. NC State. A large crowd in Reynolds Coliseum. Two teams ready to compete. “This should be fun,” she told her players. “This is what it’s all about.” But afterward? Disappointed. Why? Junior guard Italee Lucas scored 28 of her career-high 33 points in the second half to lead the No. 12 Tar Heels back from a nine-point deficit and defeat the Wolfpack women’s basketball team 81-69 before a crowd of 5,250 in Reynolds Coliseum on Monday night.
“We lacked mental toughness when we needed it,” Harper said. “We started the game with a lot of poise. When things were going well, we maintained that poise. When things weren’t going so well, and when they were making their run, that’s when you need it the most. That’s when you have to be at your best mentally and at your toughest. And we weren’t.”
Above are about a dozen photos from the game taken by Peyton Williams. After the jump is a game report and post-game comments from Kellie Harper and UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell. Go to GoPack.com for the AP story and a box score.
NC State’s bench scored 20 points in the first half, including 19 of the Pack’s 21 points in the final 12:18 of the opening period. Junior Brittany Strachan led the way with three three-pointers and 11 points. During one 38-second span, NC State’s Lucy Ellison, a senior forward, had a steal and two assists. One of those assists set up a Strachan 3-pointer; and on the other, Ellison was at the top of the key and whipped a pass to senior reserve guard Sharnise Beal (4 points), who caught it mid-air on the baseline and without landing, made a reverse layup.
UNC, though, out-rebounded NC State 29-20 in the first half and converted 13 offensive rebounds into 13 second-chance to keep pace with the Pack, which led 29-28 at halftime.
“They played harder than we did in the first half . . . . We were coming down in the first half and running too many sets instead of playing fast-break basketball,” UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “At halftime, I called the stats out. . . . because they were not good for [starting guard] Cetera [DeGraffenreid], [Lucas] or [sophomore guard Sheila [White]. I called them all out and told them you’ve got to lead this team and pick up the tempo out there. We’re a fast-breaking team.”
Ellison (4 points, 7 rebounds) opened the second half with back-to-back baskets to propel a 13-6 run that put the Pack up 42-34 heading into the first media timeout of the second half at the 15:59 mark. A 3-pointer from sophomore guard Emili Tasler (8 points) gave NC State its largest lead of the game, 51-42, with 12:04 left.
But within just a two-minute span, UNC freshman Waltilea Rolle scored off a putback and Lucas made two 3-pointers and scored 10 points, including a jumper off of a penetration drive to tie the score at 54-54 with 9:28 left.
The Pack’s Bonae Holston responded with a 3-pointer, but UNC — alternating between a man-to-man, zone and matchup defenses — held NC State to just four field goals over the final nine minutes and made all 20 of its final free throw attempts to put the game away. “We were coming down in the first half and running too many sets instead of playing fast-break basketball. We went after it a little more [in the second half] and got some movement with screens for [Lucas] and that made a big difference,” Hatchell said. “And of course when you’re scoring, your defense is better, too.”
For the game, the Tar Heels made 28 of 35 free throws, including 22 of 26 in the second half. NC State made 12 of 18 in the game and shot just 31.2 percent from the floor (24 of 77). “A team like North Carolina you want to keep them off the boards and you need to keep them off the free throw line. . . . Putting them on the line for easy baskets was not what we needed to be doing,” Harper said. “Part of that was a step slow on our box outs, and part of that was just not being disciplined on the perimeter. . . .
ìI think [the NC State players] know we can do better and we can play better than that,” Harper said.
Strachan led NC State with 16 points. Junior forward Tia Bell added 12 points and nine rebounds, and Holston had 12 points.
NC State senior guard Nikitta Gartrell, who made just 2 of 20 shots, scored seven points, giving her 1,004 career points. She’s the 26th player at NC State to reach 1,000 points in her career.
NC State drops to 12-8 overall and 2-3 in the ACC. UNC is 16-3 and 4-1.
Notes: Before the game, there was a moment of silence to honor former NC State women’s basketball coach Kay Yow, who died Jan. 24, 2009. UNC Coach Sylvia Hatchell wore a pink shirt, a pink ribbon, and a pin with Yow’s name on it. Coach Harper wore a pink ribbon, and the Wolfpack women’s basketball team wore white T-shirts that had a pink ribbon printed on them during warm-ups. . . . NC State’s next game is Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Virginia, and then the Pack travels to Clemson for a 2 p.m. game on Sunday, Jan. 30, at 2 p.m. Their next home game is Sunday, Feb. 7, at 4 p.m. when Virginia Tech visits.
NC State Coach Kellie Harper’s Post-game Comments
It was a great atmosphere that I’ve been looking forward to a long time. Itís a great rivalry. Two teams were ready to compete tonight. I was a little disappointed in our execution on both ends of the floor late in the second half. Obviously, [Italee] Lucas made some really tough shots and we were able to make our adjustments on her. I thought her scoring on the other end affected us. I thought we panicked a little bit. I was disappointed with the rebounding margin. I felt like our kids come to win now, and I think we’re all very disappointed we weren’t able to do that tonight.
On what didn’t work
A team like North Carolina you want to keep them off the boards and you need to keep them off the free throw line. We did a good job of slowing them down in transition offense. I was proud of our kids with our effort there. Putting them on the line for easy baskets was not what we needed to be doing. Part of that was a step slow on our box outs, and part of that was just not being disciplined on the perimeter. . . . I think sometimes players get so motivated and they want to win and carry the team on their shoulder. And that can’t happen — not with our team. Our team needs to be a five-person attack team, and I think that’s when we’re at our best. I thought we rushed some things to try to win the game. And I don’t fault the players for wanting to win and wanting to take on some initiative but they also have to have a sense of the game and how the flow is going. You have to be smart and pick and choose where to attack.
On the play of UNC’s Italee Lucas
To start the second half, we were playing her like we did in the first half. I thought we had done a nice job, but obliviously she decided she wanted to start shooting the ball more and she decided to take more shots. She made some tough shots, first of all. I think we defended her well several times, and she was still able to score. We wanted to keep the ball out of her hands when we shot on a roll. We weren’t able to do that. We were going to trap her a little bit. We couldn’t really do that. We were going to try to be a little more physical with her on the screens, and we weren’t able to do that because we got a couple of fouls called on us instead. We just weren’t able to execute any adjustments we were trying to make.
On UNC’s guard play
First of all, [Cetera DeGraffenreid’s] speed changes so many things you want to do defensively. You can’t pick her up in the open court. She’s going to shoot a layup if you do. And obviously, Lucas’ ability to score from the perimeter gives them such a weapon and it goes really with the rest of the team. . . . I know [DeGraffenreid] very well. I know her family from our time at Western Carolina. She came to several of our games at Western in high school. I recruited her hard to Western Carolina.
On the play of UNC’s Waltiea Rolle
She affected a lot of our shots defensively. I don’t think we were smart about where we were taking some shots. But I thought she was flying into the boards consistently and did a pretty good job at the free throw line . . . She was a huge lift for them. You don’t mind seeing [sophomore forward Chay] Shegog with fouls but it really hurt us when Rolle came in.
On the play of NC State’s Brittany Strachan
I think it’s been important all year long that we know what we get from Brittany when she steps on the court. She’s been very consistent, as has Tia [Bell] with her role. I think that’s huge. I don’t want to sub someone and our play go down; I want it to go up. And having players like Brittany and Tia, we can do that. Obviously, Brittany was able to hit some shots. . . and we feel very comfortable when she gets the ball.
On the crowd
I was excited with the crowd. It got loud in Reynolds, as it can get loud. It was fun. I talked to our players, and we haven’t had this type of crowd, and this should be fun. This is what it’s all about. And you have to enjoy these moments and go out and let loose and just play. I think that’s so important. I like rivalry games. I think they’re fun.
On what she told the players in the huddle after the game
Well, I think they knew I was disappointed. I think they know we can do better and we can play better than that. That was what I was telling them.
On the lessons learned
We lacked mental toughness when we needed it. Hopefully, we learn that we can’t panic. We started the game with a lot of poise. When things were going well, we maintained that poise. When things weren’t going so well, and when they were making their run, that’s when you need it the most. That’s when you have to be at your best mentally and at your toughest. And we weren’t. I am hoping we take out of this game and realize how important it is to finish a game and get a win. . . . I have a hard time finding moral victories out of a loss. We’ll pick it out of possessions. Our bench points versus theirs. It’s a team effort. I don’t look at that stat a lot. We’ll show our girls some really well-executed plays and some really gutsy play defensively and then weíll show them some plays not executed well. And as long as we keep learning and don’t keep making the same mistakes, we’re going to get better.
UNC Coach Sylvia Hatchell’s Post-game Comments
First of all, we have to give a lot of credit to NC State. Of course, I watched a lot of their games. . . . I was so impressed with how hard they play. They play really, really hard. And they played harder than we did in the first half and probably the first five or six minutes of the second half. Those kids wanted it and they played really hard. They’re very, very physical; they body you up. They’re scrappy. We talked about that at half time. We didn’t start off the second half as good as we wanted to. Our goal was to be more aggressive. We were coming down in the first half and running too many sets instead of playing fast-break basketball. We went after it a little more and got some movement with screens for Italee [Lucas] and that made a big difference, just being aggressive. And of course when you’re scoring, your defense is better, too. We kept switching up our defenses. We were showing man, zone and matchup. We were showing a lot of things out there and that helped us, too. Italee got going, which made a difference. [Point guard] Cetera [DeGraffenreid] did a good job running the team and pushing the ball. And this freshman [Waltilea Rolle] is going to be a great player. We just got to get her stronger, but she had seven blocks and played a really solid game and made some big foul shots for us down the stretch. [She] had eight rebounds and 12 points and seven blocks in 20 minutes. I’m really excited about her and then [sophomore Laura] Broomfield had 16 rebounds. We just had young players that were contributing. This was a big win on the road, especially over here.
On the difference in the second half
At halftime, I called the stats out . . . because they were not good for Cetera, Italee or Sheila [White]. I called them all out and told them youíve got to lead this team and pick up the tempo out there. We’re a fast-breaking team. Push the ball down the floor and get right into your offenses. That made a big difference . . . .
On UNC’s free throws
We’ve been working and shooting a ton of free throws at the end of practice when they’re very tired. And we’ve been having long, hard practices. We really have. We’ve about maxed out the NCAA limit with practice. Really. I’m serious. We have been about maxing it out. But they have been going hard to the end and then we’ve been shooting foul shots after they’ve been going two-and-a-half or three hour practices. It paid off for us.
On the play of UNC freshman Waltilea Rolle
It was big, but sheís had some really big games this year. If you look at her stats and her percentages. She’s on track to be one of the best we’ve ever had. She’s going to get better and better, once we get her to jump more when she shoots and gets a little stronger. But she’s got a good tough, a little like [Jessica] Breland [who is redshirting this year as she recovers from Hodgkin’s lymphoma]. So I’m excited to get Breland back next year and get those two out together.
On former NC State women’s basketball coach Kay Yow
It’s just not the same over here without Kay. Of course, I’ve got my pin on and I wore it in honor of Kay. And I don’t mean anything bad with the new staff. I like Kellie, and I think they are doing a great, great job. I just don’t think people give Kay enough credit for what she did for everybody — for women’s basketball, for other coaches, for NC State, for all the former players. There are a lot of things that people will never know what Kay did. It’s just not the same over here without her. We all, all the coaches, miss her a lot.