March 6, 2013
GREENSBORO, N.C. - NC State took the court on Wednesday at the Greensboro Coliseum for an open practice in preparation for the ACC Tournament that begins in earnest on Thursday with four quarterfinal games.
The Wolfpack will take on Clemson in the 8-9 matchup at 2 p.m. NC State hopes to draw on its recent success in this tournament. Last year, as the ninth seed, the Pack made an appearance in semifinal Saturday after taking down Florida State and top-seed Duke.
Head coach Kellie Harper has won a total of six games in Greensboro in just three seasons, including three wins that resulted in a title game appearance in 2010. Keeping things simple and consistent in March has done wonders for this Wolfpack women's program.
"We're going to do the same things we've done all year long, so our routine doesn't change a whole lot," said Harper.
"I think our players do understand that the tournament is special. I feel like they're starting to get into business mode. I really think they're focused right now."
The first two games on Thursday are rematches of regular-season finales played this past Sunday. That includes the Wolfpack's 63-47 win at Clemson on Sunday, its second win over the Tigers this season. The first game features fifth-seed Miami against 12th-seeded Virginia Tech at 11 a.m.
It brings a unique dynamic when playing the same basketball team twice in a span of five days. For one, the scouting report doesn't change much.
"It's easier to prepare for it because the scouting report is done," Harper said. "There are not a whole lot of changes that we're going to make to our scouting report that we just had at Clemson.
"I don't know if that's actually easier, though. You want to make sure that your players are going to be focused when you walk into that arena no matter who you're playing.
"When you win, you want to just keep doing what you do. So I think we've got to be very careful as a staff that we look at not only what we did right but also what can we do better."
What NC State has been getting better at of late is receiving contributions from a number of different players. Six different players have scored in double figures over the last three games alone, and nine have done so at one point this year. This will be key if the Pack wants to make another run deep into the ACC Tournament.
"I have been blessed that we have several different players that have been able to put points on the board, and I think when we're clicking, when we've got a couple different people making shots or finding ways to score, it makes us so much harder to guard," explained Harper.
First-year junior center Markeisha Gatling played some of her best basketball of the season in the final week of the regular season. The Raleigh native averaged 17.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in a pair of victories. That included a season-high 21 points on 10-for-13 shooting in last Thursday's victory over Virginia.
"Markeisha Gatling's improvement has been huge for our team," said Harper. "She has a presence in the paint with her size alone, but she's added some aggressiveness on the offensive end. She's getting more rebounds now, she's playing more confidently, her teammates are playing more confident with her, and it just adds to the versatility of our team.
"When she's playing well, it just creates so many more opportunities for our other players."
Harper owns an impressive 18-6 career record in postseason conference tournament games. That includes a pair of Southern Conference titles during her time with Western Carolina. Her first season in 2004-05, the Catamounts won four games in four days, something the Wolfpack will have to do this week in order to cut down the nets in Greensboro.