Fields' Career Night Leads Pack Women to WNIT's Quarterfinals
BY TIM PEELER
RALEIGH, N.C. There was no rust on NC State coach Kay Yow’s team Thursday night in the third round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. It was all shine.
Most of it came from junior Shayla Fields, who had career highs with six 3-pointers and 31 points, and from senior Khadijah Whittington, who posted the 41st double-double of her career, grabbing 17 rebounds and scoring 13 points.
By halftime, the Wolfpack led 40-25 and cruised to a 80-55 victory at Reynolds Coliseum, the team’s 20th win of the season. Yow has now posted 21 seasons of 20 or more victories in her Hall of Fame career.
The Wolfpack (20-12) will play St. John’s on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Reynolds Coliseum. Those two teams met earlier, in the fourth game of the season, with St. John’s winning 60-55 at the TD Northbank Classic in Burlington, Vt. Against a sagging man-to-man defense, State made only 20 of 61 field goal attempts. The Wolfpack’s backcourt of Fields (3-14), Nikitta Gartrell (3-13) and Megan Zullo (3-11) had a difficult time shooting.
Thursday’s performance was a far cry from that, or the Wolfpack’s two most recent performances, which were played 18 days apart. In the first, a sluggish Pack lost to Clemson 65-60 in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. In the second, the Pack trailed South Carolina almost the entire game before a late scoring spurt led to a 72-69 victory.
Whittington, who missed 12 of her first 14 shots, made several big plays down the stretch against the Gamecocks and Gartrell made three key free throws to help pull out a comeback victory.
Thursday, there was little doubt about the outcome, especially after Fields drained a trio of 3-pointers in the first half from deep in the far corner of the court. For the game, the Pack shot 46.0 percent from the field, while the Gators shot 32.8 percent.
“This was the best game we played as a team all season long,” Yow said after the game. “It was fun to watch. We are starting to get into a rhythm now after having such a long lay-off.
“I hope that continues when we play on Sunday.”
Even with limited lineup options sophomore center Chanita Jordan did not play because of a knee injury she suffered Thursday against the Gamecocks and Zullo has left the team the Wolfpack seemed to be clicking on all cylinders.
Whittington was particularly effective early in the game, dominating the boards against a capable Southeastern Conference opponent. She had 10 of her team’s 22 rebounds in the first half. Her 17 rebounds was one off her season high of 18, posted on Nov. 17, 2007, against St. John’s.
She also played strong interior defense against Florida first-team All-ACC selection Marshae Dotson, holding her to six points and five rebounds.
Fields’ previous career high in scoring was 26 at North Carolina on Feb. 25. The last player to score at least 30 in a game was former standout Kaayla Chones, who had 31 against Georgia Tech on January 6, 2002.
“I was able to get open because I was getting good screens from my teammates,” said Fields, who made 10 of her 14 field goal attempts. “It felt good to be able to knock down some shots like that.”
Sophmores Gartrell and Amber White contributed 10 points each to the victory, while Tia Bell had six points, seven rebounds and a career-best six blocks. Gartrell led the team with six assists.
“I think tonight the difference was we played so aggressively on defense,” Yow said. “I have seen us at times this year where we just reacted to what the offense did, not go after them aggressively.
The Gators (19-14) finished the game with 16 turnovers, 12 of which came on Wolfpack steals.
You may contact Tim Peeler at email@example.com.