by Mike Potter
REYNOLDS COLISEUM/RALEIGH N.C. State returns home for a Super Bowl Sunday matchup, this time against a team that seems to be at its same level in the ACC.
The Wolfpack (12-10, 2-5 ACC) is taking on Virginia Tech (12-10, 2-6), looking to snap a three-game losing streak one week after a 13-point loss at last-place Clemson. The Hokies, whose big claim to fame this season was a home-court shocker over UNC, have never beaten N.C. State in women's basketball.
Both head coaches - the Wolfpack's first-year mentor Kellie Harper and the Hokies' Beth Dunkenberger - are former head coaches at Western Carolina.
Regional cable TV cameras are in the house. And the Wolfpack eventually responds with a pretty good show in a 70-57 victory.
Playing without post Tia Bell who is out with an ACL sprain State gets off to an awful start, trailing 14-4 following a 7-0 Hokie run ending in Lindsay Biggs' jumper with 13:46 left in the half.
But after a timeout there is a long, radical turnaround. With freshman Marissa Kastanek running the point, the Wolfpack finishes a 26-4 run on her 3-pointer with 1:36 left in the half.
State's biggest lead is 19 points on two occasions, at 61-42 and 63-44 following a pair of free throws and a layup from Sharnise Beal.
Tech never gets closer than 12 points back thereafter.
Kastanek finishes one of her better games of the season, with 19 points, five rebounds and four steals and no fouls. Amber White adds 15 points and six steals, while Bonae Holston chips in 12 points and eight rebounds.
Biggs leads the Hokies with 21 points, followed by Northern Durham alumna Utahya Drye with 12.
The Wolfpack shoots 37.3 percent to 37.7 for the Hokies, winning the rebound battle by 38-36. The big difference is turnovers, as the Hokies commit 25 to State's 18.
They said it ...
N.C. State coach Kellie Harper: "I was hoping that our team would win for obvious reasons, and also because we had a great week of practice. And I wanted to see our players rewarded for that great week of practice. When you're on a losing streak you can gain confidence out of practice and that made an impression. ... I was embarrassed after the last game. We were definitely motivated this week of practice. It takes a staff to be motivated and the players. It can't just be me, and it wasn't. Everybody has to be on the same page. We really went back to the basics and getting after people."
Kastanek: "My confidence grew over the past couple of weeks. With the help of my teammates and my coaches, they told me 'Just keep shooting, it'll fall.' And I did. ... The important thing for me is to forget about the past but learn from it. The last week of practice I had in my mind how not to play. I was always keeping us up and mentally focused. We realized in practice that if we pressure the ball and get in the passing lanes and just go crazy on defense, that's when we win games. The last time we truly, truly did that was against Maryland (in a 73-45 win.)"
White: "We were making them take some shots deep into the shot clock, but we were rushing on the offensive end. We were trying to just settle down and get good shots instead of just taking one pass and shooting it. ... Playing at home helped us tremendously. It's so good to have the crowd behind us when we get down or even when we get up. They do an excellent job of staying in the game with us."
What does it all mean?
That the Wolfpack, 10-3 at home, needs just two wins to assure at least a .500 season.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Emili Tasler's defensive rebound and coast-to-coast layup to put the Wolfpack up 26-18 with 3:18 left in the first half.
NCSU at Duke, Thursday, 7 p.m.
Savannah State at Virginia Tech, Thursday, 7 p.m.