A Coach’s First Season: Q&A with Kellie Harper on NCAA Tournament

March 16, 2010
By Cherry Crayton

The NC State women’s basketball team learned last night it will be a No. 9 seed in the Kansas City regional in the NCAA Women’s Tournament and take on No. 8 seed UCLA Sunday at about 9:30 p.m. EST in Williams Arena in Minneapolis, Minn. Check out the above photos that Peggy Boone of NC State Student Media took of last night’s event at the Backyard Bistro where the team and fans watched the Selection Show. Below is video of first-year Wolfpack coach Kellie Harper’s responses to media questions after the Selection Show. As part of our “A Coach’s First Season” series, we also caught up with Coach Harper last night for a short Q&A. Comments from senior guard Nikitta Gartrell follow, too.

Q&A with Coach Kellie Harper after NCAA Tournament Selection Show

You looked nervous when the Selection Show started. Were you?
I was nervous — maybe for the first time all season. I had some nerves, and I think probably because 100 percent of it was outside of my control. And it wasn’t about whether we were going to get in [the NCAA Tournament]. I felt pretty good that we were going to get in. But what seed and where you’re going to — there are just so many unknowns.

What was the first thing that went through your mind when you saw NC State in the bracket as a No. 9 seed against No. 8 UCLA?
I hadn’t even thought about UCLA. I had just watched them play, but it never crossed my mind that they were a potential opponent for whatever reason. I don’t know if we looked at the bracketology too much. . . . I felt like Middle Tennessee, Dayton, Mississippi State. I thought one of those three teams. I think somebody mentioned Temple. Honestly, I thought Middle Tennessee, Dayton or Mississippi State.

One of the story lines for the game will probably be you going against UCLA’s coach Nikki Caldwell, who played at Tennessee from 1991 to 1994. What are your thoughts on facing her?
In the NCAA Tournament, there are always stories — human-interest stories — that people are looking into. I don’t think this one will be as big as some. We played at the same school, and we have a bond because of “orange.” She’s done a great job there, and I’m happy for her and her success. But I think there is enough separation between us that it’s not Nikki versus Kellie.

You said earlier that the players had two days off, practiced for three days and then had two more off days. Two weeks will have passed between the ACC Tournament championship game and the game against UCLA. So what have you been doing to to keep the players focused and sharp?
The first day back we played pickup games. I wanted to get them back into thinking basketball. It was a good day for us. We played pickup and shot. In our other practices, we also reviewed some things and put some new things in, including some X’s and O’s and drills. Just to keep the kids fresh. We don’t want them to get bored right now.  But they’ve had such a good attitude that I really haven’t had to do a lot of motivating. They’ve done that themselves when they’ve walked onto the court. I’ve been very impressed with how they’ve handled this.

Do practices during the regular season differ from practices during tournament time?
I try to keep them the same. I think that’s important. Also during our open practice, at least during the ACC Tournament, I tried to have our kids as loose as possible. I don’t think they need to be uptight. Everyone said at the ACC Tournament that NC State, the practice we had, that we were loose and we had fun. We’ll try to do the exact same thing [with the NCAA Tournament].

During the Selection Show, after it was announced that UCLA was your opponent, Jason Rasnake, the video coordinator, and Sarah Reese, the graduate assistant, immediately started printing out pages and handing them to you and the other coaches. What was that?
We’ve got UCLA’s schedule, and I’ve got a list of all the games we have on file of UCLA from this year. We now have a plan of attack with our scouting. And I’ve got to go recruiting this week. It all depended on who we were playing and when we were playing and now we can move forward with our schedule.  I’m not going recruiting until Wednesday. If we played Saturday, I was going [Tuesday]. So I get a little extra day before I’ve got to go. So I’ll just get right on it.  I will probably go back to the office  and maybe grab a tape to take home tonight.

You’ve said before that the tournaments are your favorite part of the year. Why?
I just love the tournament play. ACC Tournament. NCAA Tournament. Basketball is a tournament sport. You turn on the radio, you hear basketball. You turn on the television, you hear basketball. It’s March Madness. It’s all about basketball right now, and I love this time.

At the beginning of the season, you said you knew that there were probably going to be some moments throughout the season where you think to yourself, “This is pretty cool.” Is this one of those moments?
This is a very cool moment. I’m so excited. I think just the turnout [last night] and how the kids are treated and loved right now, I want that for them.

Comments from Senior Guard Nikitta Gartrell

What’s your thoughts on facing UCLA?
Right now I’m overly excited. But we can’t be complacent that we’re playing UCLA and made it to the NCAA Tournament. That’s not good enough.

You, Sharnise Beal, Lucy Ellison and redshirt junior Amber White are the four players on the team who have been to the NCAA Tournament before (in 2007). What will you tell the other players about playing in the NCAA Tournament?
The experience is always great. . . . But I would tell them to stay focused and treat it like another game. Just play hard and play together.

More than a week has past now since the loss to Duke in the ACC Tournament championship. How is the team dealing with the loss?
For me, I will always feel it. I haven’t put it aside, but I have to move on because we have another game coming up. It’s not going to go away. It was a great game and a tough loss. I felt like we played hard and came out and shocked a lot of people [in the ACC Tournament], and hopefully we can do the same thing in the NCAA Tournament.

Links to Stories about NC State in the NCAA Tournament

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