by Mike Potter
JOEL COLISEUM/WINSTON-SALEM Things are coming down to a photo finish for some spots in the ACC women's basketball race, and a couple of teams that weren't expected to be contenders are still fighting for a first-round bye in next week's tournament.
N.C. State and Wake Forest come in to tonight's tussle with identical 16-11 records, 6-6 in ACC play. The Wolfpack, picked ninth in the preseason media poll, would finish fourth with a win tonight and another in Sunday's Senior Day game against Georgia Tech and would have an inside track for yes, an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Deacons need to win both of their remaining games, including Sunday's visit to sub-.500 Clemson, and have Georgia Tech lose twice including Friday night at home to UNC to get the fourth spot themselves.
State beat Wake Jan. 22 at Reynolds Coliseum 51-49 with five points over the final 15 seconds, perhaps the Deacons' most bitter loss of the season. Wake's RPI is 100 while the Wolfpack's is 32, meaning perhaps that the Deacons need four more wins to get an invite to the NCAA instead of the WNIT or the new WBI.
Of course it's Wake's Senior Night, but there are lots of Wolfpack fans in the house - perhaps 300 - including a noisy contingent of students that rode up on a pair of buses from Raleigh. The Wolfpack is coming off a Sunday win at UNC and the fans are feeling pretty good about their team.
There are about 2,000 fans in a 14,000-seat arena, but it's certain to be pretty vocal.
Tonight Wake gets revenge, winning 66-50 to assure itself its best finish in ACC play since 1988.
The Deacons take the lead 12-10 on a Brittany Waters jumper with 10:22 left in the first half and hold it the rest of the way.
Wake is up 24-20 at the break, after a rough 20 minutes during which the Wolfpack shoots 26.7 percent and Wake 33.3.
State pulls to within 45-44 on a Brittany Strachan layup with 4:45 left, but the Deacons dominate the rest of the action.
Secily Ray finishes with 15 points and a career-high 16 rebounds. Waters adds 15 points and 10 rebounds for Wake, while Sandra Garcia has a team-high 16 points and Brooke Thomas 11.
Nikitta Gartrell (pictured) has 14 points and Bonae Holston 11 for the Wolfpack.
Wake shoots only 35.1 percent but it's enough, as State is at only 27.6. The Deacons win the rebound battle 44-39, and commit 17 turnovers to NCSU's 18.
They said it ...
NCSU coach Kellie Harper: "I'm frustrated with the way our team played and the outcome of the game tonight. I do want to give a lot of credit to Wake Forest. They had a great game plan. They played hard. They played smart. They did what they needed to do to get the win. We've just got to bounce back and pull it together for our last (regular-season) game. They had a very tough defense tonight. We missed a lot of layups and a lot of shots a team should make to win a game. They're very good one-on-one defenders and are smart enough to stay on our 3-point shooters."
Wake coach Mike Petersen: "I told Kellie after the game I think those are two of the teams that play the hardest of anyone in our league. Like the game at their place, these were two teams that really competed hard. Down the stretch I thought we did a great job staying together and executing against the press. Like most games do, it came down to rebounding and at the end of the game we made free throws."
Ray: "We moved on from that other loss (in Raleigh.) I don't think we thought we 'owed' them. We were just trying to win this game and move on to the next one. "
Gartrell: "I know we can bounce back. We've done it in the past and we can't let this loss take us down. It's just going to have to start back tomorrow in practice. The win at Carolina was a great win, but that was in the past. It was a lack of focus coming into this game."
What does it all mean?
That there's still a big fight for seeding from fourth through eighth in the ACC Tournament, and that both teams need wins.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Senior Courteney Morris' 3-pointer that makes it 50-44 with 3:47 left.
NCSU leads 59-9.
NCSU: Lost 1.
WFU: Won 2.
NCSU vs. Georgia Tech, Sunday, 2 p.m.
WFU at Clemson, Sunday, 2 p.m.