Weary Wolfpack Women Keep On Rolling
The NC State women were a tired basketball team on Thursday just three days removed from a full day of travel home from winning a weekend tournament in Hawaii.
.The fatigue was evident in the 28 turnovers the Wolfpack committed and the frequent defensive lapses it suffered during its ACC/Big Ten Challenge game against Maryland at Reynolds Coliseum.
Those shortcomings, however, only underscored how good coach Wes Moore's 12th-ranked team is and how much potential it has moving forward into conference play. Even without playing its best State still had enough going for it to outlast the ninth-ranked Terrapins 66-59 at Reynolds Coliseum.
The victory improved the Wolfpack to 9-0 and will likely send it into the top 10 of the national rankings for the first time this season.
"It was tough, the Hawaii trip, getting back at 11 o'clock Monday morning. These kids had to go to class immediately," Moore said. "A lot of people questioned, are you crazy scheduling a trip like that and then coming back and playing a team like Maryland. But thank goodness they bailed me out."
Among those that did the most bailing was the inside duo of Elissa Cunane and Kayla Jones, who between them accounted for 27 points, 29 rebounds and four blocked shots while both posting double-doubles.
Cunane, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, did most of her damage in the second half while going 7 of 9 from the floor on the way to 16 points and 15 boards. While Jones wasn't as effective with her shot -- she was only 4 of 10 for 11 points -- her 14 rebounds helped State build a whopping 51-27 advantage.
That dominance of the glass helped offset the Wolfpack's ball security issues and its penchant for letting the Terps (7-2) back into contention every time it appeared as if it was ready to break the game open.
It also helped that everytime the Wolfpack needed a big basket, Kai Crutchfield were there to take care of business.
With Maryland successfully concentrating on keeping point guard Aislinn Konig under wraps, limiting her to seven points while forcing her into six turnovers, Crutchfield -- who was called State's "X Factor" by Maryland coach Brenda Frese -- picked up the slack by leading State with 19 points.
Her basket just two seconds into the second half set the stage for a decisive third quarter that saw the Wolfpack outscore the Terps 18-9. Then with State clinging to a 57-53 lead with just under four minutes remaining, the put together a 3-pointer and a fastbreak layp as part of a 7-0 run that finally put the game away.
"I think I was just trying to take what the defense gave me," Crutchfield said. "I of course, have to give credit to my teammates for setting me up for those things. Just going off of their screens and looking for those opportunities but for the most part I was going off of what they gave me. Maryland is a very challenging team and it wasn’t just a game that you can put away."
The fact that Crutchfield and her teammates were able to finally gain some separation and notch a victory in their first challenging test of the season only adds to their confidence heading into a stretch that will see them play only two more games over the next 24 days before the start of the ACC schedule.
"It was a good challenge for our team, playing a better team than we have played against." said Cunane. "I think it was good for us to really test ourselves and see what we’re made of. It turned out pretty good for us."