The Wolfpacker

November 2019

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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NOVEMBER 2019 ■ 79 BASKETBALL PREVIEW 2019-20 first 20 years under the Hall of Fame coach, when NC State was an annual member of the national conversation for the best women's programs in the country. That attitude was never better exempli- fied than in NC State's performance last season. Despite a string of season-ending injuries that sidelined three starters and the team's first backcourt substitute, the Pack won a record 21 consecutive games en route to a 28-6 final record, the second- winningest season in the program's 46-year history, and a second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16. The pro- gram had not advanced that deep in The Big Dance in two straight campaigns since doing it three times in a row from 1989-91. "The thing I'm most proud of, with all they accomplished, is that they never took a night off," Moore said. "They showed up every game and pretty much played to their potential. They squeezed everything they could out of that potential, and we were successful because of their taking-care-of- business attitude." "I just feel like there weren't any egos," added senior guard Aislinn Konig, one of the few regulars who avoided the injury plague of a year ago. "The injuries forced us to come together as a team and see the bigger picture." Two of the pillars of last year's success, Kiara Leslie and DD Rogers, have moved on. Leslie was a first-round draft selection by the WNBA's Washington Mystics after a career at Maryland and NC State that saw her play in four NCAA Tournaments, lead the Pack in scoring last season and earn first-team All- ACC and ACC All-Defensive team honors. Rogers, after three seasons as mainly a backup forward, enjoyed her finest year, leading the Pack in rebounding (7.9 a game, more than double her previous three years' average). Despite those sizeable holes to fill, with the return of fifth-year senior guard Kaila Ealey, who was the team's starting point guard two years ago; fifth-year senior guard Grace Hunter, the Charlotte transfer whose 14.6 points-per-game average was leading the team until her season-ending knee injury last January; and starting senior post Erika Cassell, this year's team could be as strong, or stronger, than a year ago. The Pack's nucleus will be further bol- stered by a recruiting class ranked as the eighth-best in the nation by espnW. But as the Pack has shown the past six years in defying preseason predictions in finishing better than expected, October is a long way from March. And this year, the problem is not in bettering expectations, but trying to live up to them despite some unexpected setbacks. "It's going to be tough," Moore replied when asked recently how the Pack could meet the rosy predictions. "We have three kids coming back from ACL injuries last season, and those are not the kind of things that heal overnight. "All the expectations are a problem now because we're not going to sneak up on peo- ple like we've been able to do before. We're going to get everybody's 'A' game this year. We do have a lot of depth and experience this season — if everyone's healthy." Ealey, who graduated last spring and is in her final year of eligibility after two previous ACL injuries, had recovered from the most recent one when she participated in a three- on-three tournament in Las Vegas last May — and tore the ACL in her undamaged knee. Though the prognosis is that she will be able to return in December or January, it will have been almost two full years since she last competed in a regular-season game. "Obviously, she's pretty far behind," Moore admitted. The picture is equally vague for Hunter, who has suffered multiple ligament dam- ages and complications from the injury suffered in the closing minutes of last Janu- ary's ACC-opening win over Duke. The 5-9 redshirt senior underwent mi- crofracture surgery and is still in a rehab that could keep her sidelined until January, according to Moore. "It's contingent on how she feels," added assistant coach Simon Harris, who works with the team's guards. "She's been able to shoot and jump in a couple of practices, but a lot of time this type of injury can take up to 12 months to fully heal. We're just wait- ing for her to get to the point where she's fully confident." Cassell appears to be the closest of the three to being able to return at near 100 percent, though she, too, will be trying to make up for lost games and workout time over the spring and summer. Promising Newcomer Joins Veteran Duo In Backcourt Despite the loss of Leslie and key reserve Armani Hawkins (the fourth player side- lined by a knee injury last year), and the questions surrounding Ealey and Hunter, NC State's backcourt contingent could be a strength again — especially if one of its newest members performs as expected. Konig returns for her senior season as a three-year starter taking aim at the pro- gram's career record for three-point baskets. The Surrey, British Columbia, native already owns the top two single-season marks for made threes and needs just 102 this season to surpass Jennifer Howard's all-time best of 315 made bombs in a Wolfpack career. "She's in a good place right now," Moore said. "She had a great year last year, shoot- ing over 40 percent on threes, and was on the Canadian National Team this summer [for the 2019 Pan American Games]." With Konig expected to return as the point guard, junior Kai Crutchfield will be the incumbent at the two-guard position after replacing Hunter last January and starting the final 20 games. A double-figure scorer 10 times, with a career-high 17 in the ACC Tournament semifinals against Louisville, Crutchfield will be counted on to maintain that consis- tency, while stepping up on defense and re- bounding after averaging 2.9 boards a game. Katie Wadsworth, a former walk-on who earned a scholarship as a junior last sea- son, is the final returning veteran among the guards and will again be seeing action mostly as a reserve and invaluable practice opponent for the starters. The question of who will replace Leslie, a double-figure scorer and rebounder, at the No. 3 position remains unsettled. 2019-20 NC State Women's Basketball Schedule Date Opponent Time Oct. 31 Anderson University! 7 p.m. Nov. 6 North Carolina A&T 7 p.m. Nov. 10 UNC Wilmington 2 p.m. Nov. 14 Lamar 7 p.m. Nov. 19 Maine (Education Day) 10:30 a.m. Nov. 24 at Saint Mary's 5 p.m. Nov. 29 vs. Texas^ 7:30 p.m. Nov. 30 at Hawai'i^ 7:30 p.m. Dec. 1 vs. North Texas^ 5 p.m. Dec. 5 Maryland# 7 p.m. Dec. 15 Elon 12 p.m. Dec. 19 Chattanooga 6:30 p.m. Dec. 29 at Boston College* 12 p.m. Jan. 2 Virginia Tech* 7 p.m. Jan. 5 Virginia* 12 p.m. Jan. 9 at North Carolina* 7 p.m. Jan. 12 at Notre Dame* 4 p.m. Jan. 16 Florida State* 6 p.m. Jan. 19 Wake Forest* 2 p.m. Jan. 23 at Pittsburgh* 7 p.m. Jan. 26 North Carolina* 6 p.m. Jan. 30 at Clemson* 7 p.m. Feb. 2 at Duke* 2 p.m. Feb. 6 at Virginia Tech* 7 p.m. Feb. 13 Louisville* 8 p.m. Feb. 16 Georgia Tech* 2 p.m. Feb. 20 at Miami* 8 p.m. Feb. 24 Duke*$ 7 p.m. Feb. 27 Syracuse* 8 p.m. Mar. 1 at Virginia* 2 p.m. Mar. 4-8 ACC Tournament+ ! Exhibition; ^ Hawai'i Tournament at Honolulu; # ACC/Big Ten Challenge; * ACC game; $ 15th An - nual Play4Kay Game; + at Greensboro, N.C.

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