After beating the Virginia Tech Hokies, 58-39, at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, N.C. on Thursday, the NC State Wolfpack women’s basketball team prepares to take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in Atlanta, Ga. on Sunday,
“If there was a must-win game, this was probably it,” Wolfpack head coach Kellie Harper said after beating the Hokies.
“We needed it for so many reasons. I think from our players’ standpoint, I feel like the weight is off their shoulders. They’re very jubilant, they’re excited and they’re happy. Like I told our players, you never take a win for granted. I’m just really happy we’re walking out of here with a win.”
The team’s first victory in eight conference games played ended a stretch that included tipping off against four teams ranked in the Top 25 (No. 4 Duke, No. 11 North Carolina, No. 10 Maryland, No. 22 Florida State), and provided a painful reminder of how tough it is to win in the ACC.
With the exception of losing to the Terps by 20 points at College Park, the Wolfpack stayed close to the Blue Devils (10 points), Tar Heels (4 points), and Seminoles (8 points) in front of their home crowd in Reynolds Coliseum.
Aside from almost toppling rival North Carolina during the final minute of play, the most painful of any of those losses was to Florida State.
The Wolfpack led the Seminoles by 12 points, 63-51, with 9:24 remaining to play in the second half before starting a slide that allowed Florida State to tie the game, 70-70, with 2:56 to play.
From that point until the final horn sounded, the Wolfpack tried valiantly to stay in the game, but a 12-4 run by the Seminoles allowed them to escape the hallowed hardwood in Reynolds with a win, and leaving Harper and her team hurting.
“Proud of our team in their competitiveness – I thought they really battled,” Harper said afterwards.
“Obviously right now it’s hard for us to close out a game, we’re struggling to finish a game. We just haven’t done it in the ACC, so confidence has been a little shaky going down the stretch. I’m disappointed – I hurt for the players, I hurt for our staff. We continue to prove that we can compete. I just keep going back every day, asking our players to keep believing in what we are doin’ because they are right on the edge of getting’ it done. We just have to find a way to make it happen – we don’t have a choice.”
Dealing with losing
When asked how she would handle dealing with the longest set of consecutive losses she has suffered during her time while leading the Wolfpack, Harper answered by simply saying, “keep rallying.”
“Nobody in the country has had this stretch. It’s not an excuse – it is what it is. They have to keep believing they’re going to win the next game and they have to keep working hard. They’re doin’ it.”
Ironically enough, NC State’s recent losing stretch was eerily similar to the team’s previous longest consecutive losing streak, five games, which occurred during the 2010-2011 season.
That stretch also included losing to four ACC teams ranked in the Top 25 at the time.
Unfortunately, during that season, Harper and the Wolfpack couldn’t recover enough and lost in the first round of the ACC Tournament, and didn’t compete in any further postseason game after that.
Working to get better every day
“For me, I’m extremely competitive, this is a hard stretch personally, but the thing that I hold onto is every day I’m working to make our team better that day, and I’m working towards trying to win our next game – those are the only two focuses I have right now, and it’s just keeps you goin’, keeps you workin’ hard,” she said.
“Our kids are workin’ at it, they’re really tryin’. They just need something good to happen to them. They need a ball to bounce their way, one time. Once they get over the hump, I think they’ll be okay. We’ll see. I keep asking them to do it, and they keep bouncin’ back somehow, some way, so I’m just going to ask them to do it again.”
Wolfpack senior guard Marissa Kastanek indicated what the win over Virginia Tech meant to the team.
“This win is very important for our team in the sense of confidence and reward for what we have been doing,” senior guard Marissa Kastanek said.
“Our practices have been so tough and challenging and we’ve been competing in practices. This was our pay-off game. There’s no reason we can’t go on a streak now.”
Currently possessing a 9-11 record overall, Harper and the Wolfpack have 10 games remaining before the ACC Tournament and could still surprise many.
How will they do it?
As Harper put it after the Florida State loss, “A little bit of blind faith, sometimes.”
“I’m asking them to going out there in a game - have a little blind faith that they’re going to win that game.”
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