The Wolfpacker

November 2015 Issue

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 101 of 155

100 ■ THE WOLFPACKER 2015-16 WOLFPACK BASKETBALL PREVIEW BY BRIAN RAPP N ikki West is used to adjusting on the fly. The third-year assistant coach in charge of NC State's forwards and centers began her first season in Raleigh wondering — like most Wolfpack fans — how well highly touted but somewhat underachieving post Markeisha Gatling would respond in her senior year to a new coaching staff. Gatling's response was a record-setting season as the nation's most accurate shooter. She shot 66.3 percent from the floor (best in Pack program history) and averaged 17.4 points per game, while leading the Pack to a 25-win season and an NCAA Tourna- ment berth for the first time since 2010. Her strong play also led to her being selected in the first round of the WNBA Draft. West also had to wonder how another senior that year, Kody Burke, would re- spond to a new role as a perimeter-playing forward. All Burke did was to make the most three-pointers of her career (39), while blocking 33 shots, averaging 14.7 points per game and grabbing more than 200 rebounds. Burke also played her way into being picked in the WNBA Draft. Having had Christmas come early that first year, West then had to adjust to a bit of coal in her stocking last season: one return- ing front-line player with any experience, sophomore forward Jennifer Mathurin; the loss of the Pack's tallest recruit, 6-5 fresh- man Sara Boric, due to complications with the transfer of her academic credits from Bosnia that forced her to redshirt last sea- son; and an injury to the Pack's other 6-5 post, freshman Akela Maize, that limited her to just 17 appearances. Adding insult to injury, junior Ashley Eli, the only three-year player on the front- court roster, saw her season end 23 games in when she suffered an Achilles tendon tear that she was still recuperating from when practices began this October. "At one point, we were down to eight people (total)," West said. "Under the cir- cumstances, I thought the girls responded and did well — much better than a lot of people probably expected them to do." Now, West finds herself admitting to "cautious optimism" about the potential of this year's frontcourt, which returns four veterans, including two starters, and will be bolstered by three highly recruited new- comers, all among the five freshman named McDonald's All-American nominees their final high school campaigns. "I'm very excited," she said. "We have a lot of options in the post — we're carry- ing more post players [four] than we typi- cally do, but it's good because they have a chance to learn and grow." Both West and head coach Wes Moore are hoping the experience gained by last year's returners — and the push they'll get from the incoming freshmen — will help overcome the inconsistent play that forced NC State to be a predominantly perimeter-scoring team last season instead of the balanced attack that Moore prefers with the four-out, one-in system that was so successful his first season. "What's important for us this year is be- ing able to finish inside," West said. "We have to be able to score consistently on the block. "That's all we've talked about since the end of last season, through conditioning and practice: finishing." Gatling's dominance under the hoop al- lowed Moore's system to work to near per- fection his first year. While his All-ACC center led the team in scoring and rebound- ing, and Burke finished second in both, then-senior Myisha Goodwin-Coleman hit 79 three-point shots, a career high, while fellow guards Len'Nique Brown-Hoskin and Miah Spencer both averaged more than eight points per game. Without that consistency inside last sea- son, all three of the Pack's double-digit scorers were guards: Spencer (14.0 points per game), Dominique Wilson (13.8) and Brown-Hoskin (10.5). Carlee Schuhm- acher, the Pack's junior college transfer who started in the post, and Mathurin, the starting forward, averaged 7.9 and 7.3 points, respectively — less than half of the duo they replaced. "No doubt, ideally we'd like to have more balanced scoring from both the guards and inside people," West conceded. "And I think we have a couple of options this year that can get it done. The question is, can they get it done at both ends? Can they score on offense and get back and play good defense?" Another question, for both the frontcourt and perimeter personnel, is whether they can improve NC State's rebounding aver- age of 36.6 boards a game — a full re- bound less than their opponents last season — after owning a four-rebound per game advantage two years ago. "We have to get it in our minds that, as a team, it has to be a focus," West said. "Now, ideally, it's the posts because they're taller and closer to the basket. But whoever can get it done — get it done." Mathurin, beginning her third season, averaged a team-high 5.4 boards per game last season and led the Pack in rebounds in 11 of her 33 appearances. The 6-1 junior led all frontcourt players with 24.4 minutes per game and reached double figures in 13 contests. She also made 39 treys, the fourth most on the team and the most by any frontcourt player. Both West and Moore are looking for the same improvement in Mathurin's game: day-to-day consistency. "There's times she takes plays off and is more aggressive than others," West noted. "She's going to have to commit to being consistent." "Jenn probably led the team in taken charges — she really looks to help on de- fense, and with her three-point shooting she can make you come out and guard her," Moore added. "We need to see her intensity and passion every day. When she does that, she can really give us a lift." Schumacher, thrown into a new system with a new staff as a junior, had her highs and lows, but could be a breakout player this season. The 6-1 senior shed weight over the summer and, according to Moore, is noticeably quicker. "She's put herself in position to be more explosive on offense, and in better position to step out and guard on defense," he said. "And she's been shooting the lights out," West added. "She had a lot thrown at her last year because she basically learned two positions [both post and forward], but she did a good job with it. We see some big things from her this season." With Eli's status in doubt (see related story), sophomores Maize and 6-2 forward Chelsea Nelson round out the frontcourt veterans. A BIG BOOST Two Promising Newcomers And Two Returning Starters Should Mean Better Numbers For The Frontcourt Senior post player Carlee Schuhmacher worked hard on her conditioning in the offseason and is noticeably quicker, according to head coach Wes Moore. PHOTO BY KEN MARTIN

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