Wolfpack Women 'Marching' in Wrong Direction

Brett Friedlander

March is no longer some far off goal toward which college basketball teams are building.

It's next week.

It's the time of year in which teams with ambitious postseason ambitions are supposed to be playing their best. Only the NC State women are doing exactly the opposite.

After rolling through the first 23 games with only one loss while rising as high as the No.4 rankings in the national polls, the Wolfpack has suddenly fallen upon hard times.

Its 70-65 loss to Duke on Play4Kay night at Reynolds Coliseum on Monday was its third in its last four games, a skid that has coach Wes Moore beside himself with frustration over his team's recent lack of execution.

And even more upset over its apparent lack of urgency.

"I told the players that I’ll take the blame on a lot of things, but at some point they have to be responsible," Moore said of his now-eighth ranked team. "We’ve got to do a better job preparing for games, knowing the scout, going out and executing, playing with some energy and urgency. 

"Duke’s got three seniors in that starting lineup that realize it’s now or never. We maybe have some younger players out there that don’t get that yet. It’s hurting us."

Despite the emotion of a festive sellout crowd on hand to honor State's legendary former coach Kay Yow and others that are battling or have beaten cancer, the Wolfpack (23-4, 12-4 ACC) never seemed able to feed off the energy.

It missed its first five field goal attempts, fell behind 7-0 and spent the rest of the evening trying to catch up. 

With star center Elissa Cunane and junior forward Kayla Jones doing most of the scoring, the Wolfpack was able to climb back even by the end of the first quarter. But the pattern continued with every period that followed.

Duke (17-10, 11-5) would sprint out to a lead early in the quarter -- building as much as an 11-point advantage at one point -- only to have the Wolfpack finally gain some momentum and rally late.

Each time, however, the hole from which State had to dig itself out became just a little deeper.

One point at halftime. Four after three quarters. Five at the end.

"I think these past couple of games have just kind of hit us in the mouth," said Cunane, who finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds. "We aren’t playing the defense that we’re capable of. We’re not knocking down the shots on offense or getting the looks that we are capable of. 

"I think it’s been tough, and we’ve just been kind of riding it out through the season. But now that it gets to crunch time, we’re going to get everyone’s best game so we have to elevate our game as well. We just haven’t done that."

While Duke played well, solidifying its NCAA tournament chances by shooting 46 percent from the floor and getting a clutch 24-point, five-rebound, five-assist performance from graduate forward Haley Gorecki, much of the Wolfpack's misfortune on Monday -- as has been the case throughout much of its sudden slump -- was self-inflicted.

State didn't just commit 16 turnovers, it compounded its mistakes by allowing the Blue Devils to convert them into 23 points. By contrast, the Wolfpack scored only two points off Duke's two turnovers.

Other than Jones, who finished with 15 points, it also gave Cunane little offensive help. While the two double figure scorers were 14 of 19 from the floor between them (73.7%), everyone else on the team combined to make 10 of their 33 attempts (30.3%).

Looking at the postgame stat sheet, Moore made mention of his team's poor shooting, then added that "the one (thing) that jumps out at you is 20 points off of turnovers, it was 23-2. That’s a mountain that's hard to overcome.

"Offensively, we probably should have gotten real simple and just spread them out and tried to get the ball into Elissa," Moore added. "I’ll regret not doing that more, but it seemed like the few times we did do it, we threw the ball away. We couldn’t deliver a pass. At some point, it comes back to fundamentals and you’ve got to do the little things."

With just two regular season games remaining before the ACC tournament, Moore was asked if he thought it was possible for his team to turn things back around in time to make a deep run in both the ACC and NCAA tournaments.

"I don’t know," he said. "You better ask them that."

Asked that, Cunane said she is hopeful.

"I think we’re almost like rebuilding here late in the season as every game gets tougher," she said. "I think that when the platform elevates to the ACC Tournament, we’re going to have some more oomph behind us, some more energy, some more to play for, as if we don’t right now. 

"I think that we’re going to take care of business this week, finish these two regular season games out and be ready for the tournament."

As disappointed as Moore is that it's come to that, he said he's even more unhappy that his team wasn't able to make a better showing on such a special occasion.

"It’s very disappointing," he said. "We’ve had three straight sellouts at home and we’ve lost all three of them. I hate it for the fans. 

"I wanted to do something special for the fans this year and now if we don’t get this thing turned in a hurry we are going to be really missing an opportunity. Like I said, I’m still searching, which is not a good time of year to be doing that."