A Coach’s First Season: At the ACC Tournament

March 5, 2010
By Cherry Crayton

Championship game vs. Duke

Quarterfinals vs. Virginia

Sunday evening update: Duke 70, NC State 60

The NC State women’s basketball team fell to No. 8 Duke 70-60 Sunday afternoon in the final of the ACC tournament at Greensboro Coliseum. Senior guard Nikitta Gartrell led NC State with 19 points and seven rebounds and sophomore forward Bonae Holston added 14 points and six rebounds. Both were named to the All-ACC Tournament first-team. Go to GoPack.com and theacc.com for game reports; theacc.com also has video and the text of the post-game press conference featuring Gartrell, Holston and NC State head coach Kellie Harper. The Wolfpack (20-13) will find out Monday, March 15, if they made the NCAA tournament.

“I’m extremely proud of our team for so many reasons. For improving, for believing, for working hard in practice, for playing together,” Harper said after the game. “But in that locker room a few minutes ago I was proud of them for wanting more. They are hurt because they didn’t win this game. And I am so proud of that. . . . I think our kids have proved over the last few weeks that we are an NCAA Tournament team. Right now I don’t think I have to make an argument for these girls. I think they made it for me.”

As part of our ongoing series “A Coach’s First Season,” here is a short Q&A we conducted with Coach Harper  after the title game about the ACC tournament experience as a whole.

Coach Harper on the ACC Tournament Experience

What do you hope that fans and recruits saw in your team during the ACC tournament?

I think you have to love a team that plays this hard. When you give it all you got and you see these kids having the time of their lives, if I’m a recruit, I want to play there and I want to be a part of that. If I’m a fan, I want to embrace this team, and I feel like Wolfpack Nation has definitely embraced this group of girls.

You’ve said in the past that no loss is ever OK and almost isn’t good enough. But what will you takeaway from the ACC tournament?

I can pull so many positives out of this experience. I can pull positives out of the [Duke] game. There were some things that if we had done things a little bit different, the outcome might have been a little bit different. As little as three possessions. Obviously, I’m disappointed and our players are disappointed, but I’m not any less proud of what they have accomplished in the last four days.

What do you hope the players remember about this ACC tournament?

I hope they remember the feelings of winning and I hope they will never lose the memory of what it was like to stand on the court with our fans loving them.  I’m just so happy that they got to experience that.

What will you remember?

I think the fans. That is going to be one of my biggest memories because that was pretty incredible. How they have been able to grab hold of us and get us through some tough times. And I’m always going to remember our kids’ guts. And I’m going to remember [senior forward Lucy Ellison] coming off the court crying because she wanted to win — second wasn’t good enough. I love that.

Describe your first ACC tournament experience.

It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been tiring. We’ve been able to do something special. And, I like the motorcycle police escorts. There is ton of film. The players picking where we eat pre-game. Just the whole experience has been a good one.

The team started ACC play losing six of nine games. When did you realize this team could put itself in a position to make the NCAA tournament?

I’ll be honest with you. It was after our first game with Duke.  Once we beat Miami, looking at that schedule, we knew we could do something special in our last five games. I knew that if our players bought into that and continued to improve that we would have the opportunity to make the tournament. . . . I told the players this during our very first meeting when I met them—we talked about getting back to the NCAA tournament. That was our goal. And they have made the argument that they belong there.

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(Photo by Peyton Williams)

(Photo by Peyton Williams)

Saturday night update: NC State 63, Boston College 57

Senior guard Nikitta Gartrell scored a career-high 25 points as the NC State women’s basketball team used a 15-0 run to erase a 10-point deficit in the final 9 minutes to beat Boston College 63-57 Saturday evening in Greensboro Coliseum to advance to the ACC Tournament title game. The Wolfpack (20-12), the No. 6 seed, will meet top-seeded and No. 8 ranked Duke at 1 p.m. in Greensboro for a shot at its first ACC tournament championship since 1991. In the Feb. 11 meeting between the teams, Duke defeated NC State 70-39, which was the Wolfpack’s worst loss of the season.

Go to GoPack.com and theacc.com for game stories, box scores and photos for the NC State-Boston College matchup, and go to theacc.com for post-game comments from first-year NC State coach Kellie Harper and NC State players, including Gartrell, freshman guard Marissa Kastanek (9 points, all of which came in the final 9 minutes of the game) and sophomore forward Bonae Holston (15 points). After the jump, as part of our ongoing series “A Coach’s First Season,” we’ve got the following exclusive items to supplement the game coverage that other media outlets are providing:

  • Additional comments from Coach Harper and Nikitta Gartrell;
  • An interview with senior forward Lucy Ellison;
  • An interview with Debbie Mulligan Antonelli ’86, a basketball analyst for Fox Sports Net and a three-year starter under Kay Yow;
  • An interview with Coach Harper’s youngest brother, Ross Jolly; and
  • An interview with Coach’s Harper’s mother, Peggy Jolly.

Post-Game Comments from Senior Forward Lucy Ellison

Senior forward Lucy Ellison made her first 3-pointer of  her career with 17:38 left in the game. She was a freshman when NC State defeated a previously unbeaten Duke in the semifinals of the ACC tournament in 2007 to advance to the championship game, which UNC-Chapel Hill ultimately won. Harper calls Ellison “our unsung hero.   . . . 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.”

Lucy Ellison (Photo by Peyton Williams)

Lucy Ellison (Photo by Peyton Williams)

On making her first 3-pointer
I was wide open, so I’m going to take it. Coach told me that if I’m open to take it.

On getting to her second ACC tournament title game
It’s a different team and a different type of feel. My freshman year, it was more emotional. We were doing it for Coach Yow. And now, I feel like we’re doing it for ourselves and that we feel like we deserve it. . . . [But] I really do feel [like Coach Yow is watching over us]. I can feel her presence in the building.

On being the “unsung hero”
I would like to do more offensively, but I try to all the small stuff for the team and help get us more possessions. I do the dirty work. I like that. I feel like you can’t defend that and you can’t stop it. And it gives us an edge.

On playing Duke
I’m really excited. When Duke beat us the first time, they embarrassed us. I’m really pumped up and glad that we’ll get another shot at them. Duke is an impressive team and they force a lot of turnovers. We’ve got to stay poised and keep our composure and just beat them.

Additional Post-Game Comments from Senior Guard Nikitta Gartrell

Go to theacc.com for Nikitta Gartrell’s  post-game comments during the press conference.

On her career-high 25 points
Yes, I was [feeling it]. . . . I didn’t do anything differently before the game, but I came out and I told myself, “Look. It’s now or never.” I looked at

Senior guard Nikitta Gartrell (Photo by Peyton Williams)

Senior guard Nikitta Gartrell (Photo by Peyton Williams)

myself in this mirror right here and I visualized myself not in this uniform ever again. And I said, “You know what. I’m not ready to take this uniform off and sit here and watch somebody else play in the championship game.” So I did what I had to do.

On playing Duke
Our main focus right now is to rest up and stay focused. We have to stay focused. We can’t dwell on this evening’s game. We can’t let it carryover into tomorrow because it’s a new game. It won’t be the same type of game plan. So we need to keep our focus. It’s better to win an ACC championship than to just get there and lose. I know that feeling.

On the team coming together at the right time
At this point, everybody knows everybody. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We know how to work together to make this team work. If we don’t, we branch apart.

Additional Post-Game Comments from NC State Coach Kellie Harper

To watch Coach Harper’s post-game press conference, go to theacc.com.

What’s going through your mind?
First of all I’m going to go and try to get my ice-cream sandwich. I’m beaming with pride for these girls. I’m so ahppy for them. You’ve heard me say all season that I’ve wanted the attention on these kids, and right now, they are on one of the biggest stages in the country.

At the beginning of the season, you told NC State alumni magazine, “I think we could be competing for championships in three or four years. Does that mean we won’t win before then? No.” Did you ever imagine that you’d be contending for an ACC tournament title your first year?
You dream it. Before every game I walk in and I think, “This is a championship game.” It’s so funny. During the year, you don’t think about that last game in the tournament but every game you just come out and work on that game and you have to take advantage of those opportunities all through the season.

Q&A With Debbie Mulligan Antonelli ’86

Debbie Mulligan Antonelli ’86 was a three-year starter under Kay Yow and is a broadcast analyst for Fox Sports Net. She’ll be calling the title game of the nationally-televised game Sunday.

What does NC State need to do to beat Duke?
They have to handle the pressure. That’s the first thing. You have to manage

Debbie Antonelli (Photo courtesy of Debbie Antonelli)

Debbie Antonelli (Photo courtesy of Debbie Antonelli)

the tempo. With playing four games in four days, you have to get it to where you have a chance. I think when fatigue is a factor, playing in 4-minute segments is critical. Then, Duke is going to gamble and take risks. You’ve got to be able to hit shots, especially on the backside of the pressure. If you can do that, then you’ve got a chance.

You’ve been able to watch NC State play several times now in person, going back to the Dec. 13 game in South Carolina. What’s different about the team now?
They have matured and they play with a lot more composure. They have a lot more confidence about what they’re doing. Everything that Kellie has told me—I mean, I think she could sell snow to an Eskimo right now. I really think that they are locked in and engaged in everything she asks them to do. And they are performing at a high level because of it.

In pre-season predictions, you said they were going to be a dark-horse team in the ACC this season. Did you imagine, though, that they would be playing for an ACC tournament title during Coach Harper’s first season?
I said they were a dark horse because I thought they were going to be playing their best late in the season, and we are seeing that. But for them to win three games in three days and to have a chance to win an ACC title, I don’t know who could have believed that they could have done it besides them. It’s impressive, especially with the intangibles that they’ve played with. They have veteran players. It’s a guard game when you get to this point of the season. They have excellent guard play. For [Marissa] Kastanek to be as good as she is, nobody knew that. Even Kellie will tell that she had to go to Lincoln, Nebraska, two times to recruit her and didn’t even see her play the first time she went to see her. [Coach Harper] didn’t even know if [Marissa] could play or not. But she has an infectious likability and team and sportsmanship about her. She’s a kid that if you know that if she’s on your side, she is going to go to battle for you. You can sense that when you talk to her about it. Then with her skill set. Her infectious personality on the floor – most people, when they ask me about NC State, they start with her. “What do you think of Kastanek?” She is impressive because she plays hard, and she plays inside the system. . . .

I am proud. If I take my broadcaster’s hat off and I look as a former player, with the Yow banner [hanging in the Greensboro Coliseum] casting a shadow on this group of kids, it’s not something they have spoken about, I don’t know anybody who has played who couldn’t be proud of the way they have played. They play hard, and they play together. And if you do that, you’re happy with whatever outcome comes about. But for them to play in a championship game her first year, that’s incredible. That, I think, puts a stamp on her hire. . . . And I don’t know how [Coach Yow] couldn’t be proud of everything, from Kellie all the way down to the last player on the bench.

Q&A With Ross Jolly, Kellie’s Harper Youngest Brother

In November, during the road trip to Old Dominion University in which the NC State alumni magazine tagged along, Kellie Harper told us this story about her youngest brother, Ross, a student at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.

Ross [is a] huge, huge fan of our team. He was driving home from school and called my mom and had her put the phone by the computers so he could listen to our game. That’s a fan.

Since the beginning of the season, he’s listened to or watched every game. After finishing a test Thursday morning, he and his mother, Peggy Jolly, made the 7-hour drive to Greensboro to make NC State’s 8 o’clock first-round game against Clemson in the ACC tournament. Both he and his mother spoke with us on Saturday before NC State played. Ross, 11 years younger than Kellie, aspires to be a coach. Kenneth Jolly, Kellie’s father, was not able to make the trip because of his health.

What have you learned from your sister?
I’ve learned less of the Xs and Os and more on just what it takes to be a coach. Like what happens behind the scenes and recruiting. I’ve been recruiting with Kellie a couple of times on the road [when she was at Western Carolina]. I’ve just been able to see things you don’t normally see. . . .It was great and I enjoyed it. To see all the players and to learn about what to look for in a player. It’s really interesting, and I learned a lot just going out one time. It was a great experience. . . . Now that she’s at NC State, she’s been flying a lot. It’s a little more national.

Describe your relationship with your sister.

When I was younger, we were really close. Then she went to college and into the coaching world, and we didn’t get to see each other a lot. But we definitely stayed in touch, especially the last couple of years as I’ve really been getting into basketball and coaching. We’ve been talking more, and we have a really great relationship now. I enjoy any chance I get to spend with her.

What has stood out to you about the NC State team this season?
They’re playing so hard, and they’ve improved so much since the beginning of the season. Overall, they are buying into [Kellie’s] system and they’re playing to their strengths. The players have done a great job in learning what the coaching staff wants.

How would you describe the team?
They have a lot of personality. I’ve enjoyed talking with them with the few times that I’ve been around them.

Describe what it’s like to watch your sister on the sidelines coaching.
I’ve seen her play so much and I’ve seen her coach for the past five years, so I’ve become accustomed to it. In the beginning, it was really cool to see her out there and to see her own players. And now at NC State, it’s just great.

What do you think people should know about your sister?
My sister is a great person to know. I don’t know anybody who has ever said anything negative about her who has met her or known her. If people get a chance to know her, they’ll fall in love with her.

Q&A With Peggy Jolly, Kellie Harper’s Mother

What’s harder: watching Kellie play or watching her coach?
Oh, it’s been difficult both ways. Obviously, when she played, if you don’t have a close game, you can sit there and really enjoy it. But if you’ve got nail-biters, it can be exciting. But I get just as excited for her as a coach. I really want the girls to do well. So, I’m not sure there’s a difference.

Kellie has said that both you and your husband loved the game of basketball and passed it on to her. What drew you to basketball?
I think growing up in a small town like Sparta that [basketball] was what girls were able to play. They didn’t have all the other sports at that time. I did play a lot of sports that were school-related, and basketball was a sport that was school-related. And my parents, my dad especially, loved all sports. We grew up going to all the games. Football, basketball, everything. And like I said, basketball was the sport for girls. I just played it, and I just loved it. And my husband was a coach, and he played college basketball [at Tennessee Tech]. We just loved the game together. And when we had kids, with Kellie being the oldest and the girl—when we brought her home from the hospital, we put a small red ball in her hands. I’ve got a picture of it when she was two or three or five or five days old. So I don’t know. We both had a love of the game, and I married a man who had a love for the game, and it was just natural that when we had kids—if they were interested and they all were—they would, too. They’ve taken us a lot of places and we’ve been all over the country to watch Kellie play and our boys.

You played at Tennessee Tech. How has women’s college basketball changed since then?
I tell Kellie all the time and I kid her, “Kellie, I got this started for you.” We didn’t even have scholarships. We had to pay our own way. So I kid her about that all the time. We did it because we loved the game. I played against Pat Summitt [Kellie’s college basketball coach at Tennessee]. She was one grade behind me at UT-Martin, and they were our big rival. It was really, really fun, and then it took off. The athletes are so much better now. There is hardly any comparison, and there is so much more reward now, like getting to play in a venue [Greensboro Coliseum] like this. We didn’t have this, and I think it’s wonderful. But I do kid Kellie and tell her, “Thank me. I’m the one that helped get this started, and I paid the price.”

How is Kellie like you, and how is she like her father?
She is like her dad in that she hates losing. Well, my husband and I both hate losing. But she handles it better than I do like he does. Don’t get me wrong. It eats at her, and she wants to win. And if she’s winning, then everything is fine. She was fortunate enough to always be on good teams in everything she did. Everything she did, they won. Won in middle school. Won in high school. Won in college. She won a lot more than she lost. But when she did lose, she handled it a lot better than I do. I just sit and stew, and I just think, “What if? What if? What if?” And I still have my San Jose tickets [to the 1999 Final Four] that we didn’t get to use when she was a senior [at Tennessee], and I remind her of that all the time. I kid her and tell her, “You got us greedy. You won three national championships, but I wanted a fourth one.” [My husband] is a little more good-natured than I am. I would say that she gets her competitiveness from both of us, but she handles it well because she gets that from him. [Editor’s note: Duke upset Tennessee during the NCAA tournament in 1999 to end Harper’s collegiate career. She talked about her goal to win four national titles and her feelings toward Duke with us in mid February. Read her comments here.]

How do you handle it when NC State loses?
I’m still thinking, “What if? What if? What if?” . . . I still don’t like to lose, and I want the girls to do well.

In her book Raise the Roof, Pat Summitt tells a story about how Kellie taught herself how to ride a horse when she was a kid that you didn’t think she was big enough to ride yet. Coach Summitt used that story as an example of Kellie’s drive to succeed, even at a young age. Where do you think that drive came from?

I don’t know. I really don’t know. Everything she did just came easy to her. She wanted to succeed. She was a great student. She finished third in her class out of over 200. Just everything that she did, especially in basketball, just came easy. When you’re good from the get-go [maybe that has something to do with it]—she was on good teams in elementary school and all the way up. She just has a drive about her that I’m not really sure I can pinpoint where it came from. It’s great, and she handles it the right way. I certainly can’t take credit for it, maybe more so from my husband.

What do you hope Kellie learned from you that you hope her players will learn from her?
I’ve always told my kids that we’ve tried to rear them in a Christian family. They have never known anything but to get up on Sundays and go to church. As life gets shorter for me, I tell them, “Enjoy life. It is so short. But do the right thing.”

What do you want people to know about your daughter?

I have been blessed. I could not ask for a better daughter. If I wrote down what I wanted in a daughter and said, “God, could you give me this?,” He gave it to me. I’ve been very blessed.

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Friday night update: NC State 66, Virginia 59

Four players on the NC State women’s basketball team scored in double figures Friday night as the Wolfpack knocked off No. 19 Virginia 66-59 in Greensboro Coliseum to advance to the semifinals of the ACC tournament. The Wolfpack, who improve to 19-12 overall and are the sixth seed in the tournament, will meet No. 7-seeded Boston College (which upset No. 2 Florida State 67-60 earlier Friday) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday with a trip to the ACC tournament final on the line. NC State split games with Boston College during the regular. The Eagles beat the Pack 83-66 on Jan. 10 and the Pack beat the Eagles 73-62 on Feb. 10.

Against the third-seeded Cavaliers, freshman guard Marissa Kastanek scored 12 of her 15 points in the second half to lead NC State in scoring. Senior guard Nikitta Gartrell added 12 points, reserve junior Brittany Strachan had 11 points and sophomore forward Bonae Holston 10 points. Senior forward Lucy Ellison led NC State in rebounds with nine, and senior forward Sharnise Beal, though playing with a sore knee, had eight rebounds, six points and three assists in 15 minutes. Go to GoPack.com for a game report and a box score. Click here for post-game comments from NC State coach Kellie Harper, Gartrell, Strachan and Kastanek. There are also post-game comments from Virginia coach Debbie Ryan and senior guard Monica Wright, the 2010 ACC Player of the Year who scored 32 points.

One highlight from the post-game comments featuring NC State that you’ll probably read about in various media reports is this exchange:

A member of the media: With 55 seconds left and Holston at the line, Kellie, you and Marissa were over at the sideline and you were looking like you were having a great time, laughing. What was going on at that point between you two?

Kellie Harper: I was hoping no one saw that. Marissa actually came to the bench a little flustered and the last thing I needed her at that point was being tight and not too tense not laid back and lose. So I just told her a joke.

Member of the media: Tell it to us.

Kellie Harper: Actually I just imitated a YouTube video that the kids imitate all the time. So I had to make her laugh. She was nervous. It worked.

The YouTube video? “David After Dentist.”

After the jump, we’ve got exclusive post-game comments from Brittany Strachan, who leads the ACC in 3-point shooting and made 3 of 5 against Virginia; a short interview with Patrick Kinas and Demar Bonnemere of the Wolfpack Sports radio network, who preview the Boston College game; and a couple of ACC tournament notes related to the Wolfpack

Quick post-game comments from junior Brittany Strachan

Your team made nine 3-pointers, and you made three of five attempts. You’re leading the ACC in three-point shooting at 43.4 percent. Last year, you shot about 24 percent from 3-point range. What’s the difference this year?
I worked on my 3-point shot some, but the big difference has been my confidence. I feel more comfortable, and I have games under my belt and I know my role and I feel more confident to take those shots. Last year I would rush to take those shots because I’d be excited that I was open. Now, it’s just coming to me and it feels more natural. . . . And my coaches have that confidence in me and they tell me to shoot.

NC State split its game with Boston College during the regular season. What did the team learn from each of those games that can help you get the win Saturday?
With any opponent, you want to stick to the game plan and be confident with what the coaches [come up with] and with what the schemes will be. You just have to go out hard, leaving it all out on the court. One mistake can lead to so many points  and losing focus can really lead to a meltdown. So just being focused and leaving it out on the floor—we’ve got to do that.

Comments from Patrick Kinas and Demar Bonnemere, of the Wolfpack Sports Radio Network

What is different about this team, which has won six of its past seven games, since the stretch in ACC play when it lost six of nine games?
Demar: There seems to be more of a sense of urgency now coming from the seniors. They’re realizing that they’re coming toward the end of their careers and they don’t want it to end just yet. They are going to keep fighting and doing what they can to prolong it.
Patrick: I think it’s cohesion. They’ve all meshed together. It’s a little bit of what [Demar] was saying that they realize that this the near the end of the unit. And when a third of your team is about to graduate, that certainly creates that type of atmosphere. But I think they are starting to get the system and we have everybody playing hard. We had six people with five or more rebounds [against Virginia]. That doesn’t happen often at all.

What was the turning point for the team?
Patrick: I think it goes back to the [first] Wake Forest game [on Jan. 22].  They are such a tough team. They defend you well and they force you to play, whether you want to or not, a really ugly game. And if the calendar is right in my head, Amber White was moved from point guard to wing, yet there is 3 seconds left in the game and she has the ball in her hands and hits the game-winning shot. The pressure was off of her then, and I think that will be the crystal moment if you look back on the season and think what . . . might have been the one thing that changed the direction of the season. For me, that’s the one moment. There have been many other moments, like the last-minute stretch against Miami to win that game and holding on against Carolina and even holding on here against Virginia. They were holding the last rung of the ladder before falling off a cliff, but they held on.

What will be the keys in the NC State-Boston College game?
Demar: Rebounding. Looking at the box score from the game we won, one of the things that [Coach Harper] even talked about in the post-game interview, was that NC State out-rebounded Boston College on the offensive board 14 to 7. I think that was probably the big key to winning that game, especially when you have [junior center] Carolyn Swords and [junior forward] Stefanie Murphy – two big girls down low hitting the glass. To out-rebound that team was a big success.
Patrick: I think it’s pressuring the guards again. I don’t think Boston College can handle that, especially if [junior guard] Jaclyn Thoman gets into early foul trouble. There is a big drop off when she leaves the court and when you apply that kind of pressure. They had 27 turnovers [in the second game against NC State] because [senior guard Mickel] Picco wasn’t getting clear looks and Thoman was getting bothered. When Reynolds came in, she was bothered. And that’s the way NC State won that game. Five minutes into the game, you could tell Picco was really uncomfortable and that transferred to the big players. I really don’t think it’s foul trouble for Swords or Murphy or even the lack of a post presence for NC State, because we beat them without [junior forward] Tia Bell. And even if they get into foul trouble, they don’t play on the court a whole lot together. They’re rarely out there at that same time. I think it starts and ends with the intensity we put on their guards. Both teams are going to be out of gas and both will be playing on their will and guts and wanting that spot in the finals.

Friday notes

— With about 25-seconds left in the game, there was a dead-ball situation and NC State had the ball on Virginia’s baseline to throw it in. As Virginia was substituting players and even before the official handed the ball over to one of the NC State’s players to throw the ball in-bounds, the NC State players on the court started running around in a bit of a frantic but orchestrated weave. When the official handed the ball off to the player throwing it in-bounds, NC State moved into an in-bounds set play. With about eight seconds left, NC State did the same frantic weave before the official handed the ball off to one of the NC State players to inbound it.  Though I’ve seen all but a handful of NC State’s game this season, I’ve never noticed this approach to an in-bounds play before. Patrick Kinas and Demar Bonnemere of the Wolfpack Sports Radio network say they’ve never seem them do that it either.  So was it something new? We asked Brittany Strachan. She laughed before saying, “It’s something we would like to run to just keep the defense guessing and to help us get the ball in.  When it’s that [close of a game] you want to get the ball in, and when they’re playing you that tight, it’s just something you can do to keep [the opposing team] honest.”

— Here was Coach Harper’s and the assistant coaches’ post-game plans, according to Coach Harper:

The first thing I do is go back to the hotel and change clothes and begin to watch our last game with Boston College. My assistants will also be working other games with Boston College so we can get the scouting report ready for our girls. It’s almost 11 [p.m.], I’ll be lucky if I’m in bed by 2.

— In case you’re interested in where the team is eating during their stay in Greensboro,  here you go:

  • After an 11 .am. practice at UNC-Greensboro on Wednesday, they ate lunch at Stephanie’s II and had dinner at Bonefish Grill.
  • On Thursday, when they beat Clemson 59-54, they ate breakfast at IHOP, had a pre-game meal at Graffiti’s Bistro and pizza was waiting for them at their hotel after their game.
  • Today they had breakfast at IHOP and their pre-game meal at Bravo’s. Pizza was already at the hotel after the game.

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Thursday night update

Tia Bell and Kellier Harper after NC State's first win of the season. (Photo by Peyton Williams)

Tia Bell and Kellier Harper after NC State's first win of the season. (Photo by Peyton Williams)

Despite shooting just 35.6 percent from the floor, the NC State women’s basketball team got a season-high 22 points from sophomore forward Bonae Holston as it defeated Clemson 59-54 Thursday night to advance to the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament. “I’m proud of our kids,” first-year NC State coach Kellie Harper says. “it was an ugly win, but our kids found a way to win.”

The Wolfpack (18-12), the sixth seed, will meet No. 3-seeded Virginia (21-8) at 8 p.m. Friday in Greensboro Coliseum.  The Cavaliers, led by 2010 ACC Player of the Year Monica Wright, defeated NC State 73-60 on Jan. 27.

Go to GoPack.com for a recap of NC State’s win over Clemson and for post-game comments from coach Kellie Harper, senior guard Nikitta Gartrell, freshman guard Marissa Kastanek and Holston. Other game reports can be found via the Independent Weekly, Raleigh News & Observer and Greensboro News & Record. The N&O also has a photo gallery.

After the game we talked to Harper and caught up with Tia Bell, a junior forward who suffered a knee injury during the Virginia game six weeks ago and who had knee surgery last Friday. Read their exclusive comments after the jump. Keep checking back with us in this entry throughout the weekend for updates on the team during the tournament.

Interview with Junior Forward Tia Bell

Junior forward Tia Bell sprained her knee during the Jan. 27 game against Virginia and re-injured it several weeks later, tearing her ACL. She had knee surgery last Friday.

You talked to the team in a huddle before the Clemson game Thursday. What did you tell your teammates?
I got kind of emotional, so there wasn’t much I could say. But I told them I had faith in them and there was nothing left to say because all they could do was go out and play and play hard.

You didn’t sit with the team on the bench during Thursday’s game. Why?
It’s better if I keep [my leg] up. I probably would have been in the way [on the team bench], so I made the decision to sit away and take the backseat and be safe.

What have the last six weeks been like for you?
It’s been an emotional rollercoaster. . . . I think about [the injury] every time I see someone come off a rebound. So it’s still vivid in my mind. . . . At one point I thought that I would be back before the Wake Forest game. Then a week before the Wake Forest game, I hurt it again. . . . When I first hurt it, it wasn’t as bad as they thought it was and that I could come back without a surgery. But I ended up having to get surgery anyway. It’s been emotional, but seeing them play has helped me a lot. They’ve really picked it up, and they’re really holding me up. We’ve beaten some of the biggest teams we’ve played this year when I was out, and I’ll take that. And now we’re past the first round of the ACC Tournament. So they are helping me recuperate and get over this injury. I’m just ready to come back and be as strong as I can to help them to have a better season next year.

What has your rehab been like?
I’m a week out of surgery and I’ve been working on strengthening my quad and trying to bend it a little to get my range of motion back. I’m actually trying to put some weight on it, too. It’ll be a week tomorrow since the injury, so I’m taking it day-by-day.

What have you noticed about the team over the past six weeks as you’ve watched from the sidelines that you might have not have realized or appreciated when you were playing?
We really work hard and really play well together. They have fun out there — and most teams really don’t have fun. I think a lot of things look easier than they are when you’re watching from the sidelines. I’m sitting down and watching a game, and I’ll say, “OK. Come on. Just go to the basket.” So it’s kind of frustrating that I know they can do it but they don’t do it. But they work hard and they have fun.

Coach Harper had two ACL tears during her playing career. What did she tell you after the injury? And what did she tell the team?
She was there when I hurt it the second time and we knew immediately what it was. . . . First she said that she was sorry that I had to go through this and then she told me that I would get through it. I told her she didn’t have to apologize, and she said that I would be back and that I would be stronger than ever. . . . She stressed practice. She said if we practice hard, we usually play well. She said games are reflective of practices. So she made sure we kept up our intensity and our work ethic. . . . She didn’t say Tia is out, so we have to do this. It was more picking it up in other areas that would help us all as a team.

What will it take to beat Virginia?
I know that this will be a great game. Virginia is a great team, and Monica Wright is a great player. We will have to execute well on the defensive end. And have fun. You don’t get this moment a lot, so make it count.

The team came west to Greensboro on Wednesday. What’s your favorite moment or thing you’ve done at the tournament so far?
Winning this game! This is the first time we have gotten past the first round since coming to State.

Favorite moment this season?
A lot of those! I want to say seeing the seniors beat Georgia Tech for the first time and when the [Yellow Jackets] were ranked 22. And the best moment — finishing the ACC better than we were predicted.

Coach Harper On Her First ACC Tournament

Your team lost to No. 11-seeded Clemson 69-56 on Jan. 31 and though won Thursday night, you struggled against the Tigers, especially offensively. What is it about Clemson that has given your team problems?
I think their athleticism at the guard has affected us and their size has affected us. They’ve got some quickness that really took us out of what we wanted to do offensively. We just don’t match up well with them.

What do you have to do against Virginia to win?
First of all, you’re not going to stop Monica Wright. We’d like to slow her down and maybe stop her teammates. We didn’t feel like we played great at Virginia earlier in the year. I think our team will be motivated; we just have to go out and execute and hopefully we’ll have some legs under us come 8 o’clock.

You’ve said in the past they you’re very task-oriented and don’t get too caught up in thinking about the significance of any game. But it’s your first ACC tournament. What do you think of your first time here so far?
This is a very cool moment. I know the team wanted this [win over Clemson]. Even thinking big picture — thinking NCAA tournament — we knew this win was very important. We obviously won’t know until Selection Monday [if we’re in the NCAA tournament], but we have to think this gives us a leg up.

What’s something new you’ve experienced or learned since you’ve been in Greensboro Wednesday?
Stephanie’s is a very good restaurant in Greensboro. [They serve] soul food. . . . We brought the team over to watch the [second half] of the 11 o’clock game [which Wake Forest won 67-66 over Miami in overtime]. We brought them over because I wanted them to see the atmosphere. Obviously, most of our teams are veterans. But for a player like Marissa, I wanted her see the ACC Tournament before she took the court. It’s such a well-run tournament. This is my favorite time of the year. Every year I’ve coached, the tournament is a great atmosphere. All the teams are there. All the fans are there. There are great games. There is a lot on the line. It’s just fun.

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