by Mike Potter
REYNOLDS COLISEUM/RALEIGH If there has been a women's basketball game this season N.C. State was very lucky to win, it was back on Jan. 22 against Wake Forest.
First-year Wolfpack coach Kellie Harper (pictured) knew it at the time, and went out of her way after the game to say how she could sympathize with what the Deacons might be going through that night.
With 15 seconds left, Nikitta Gartrell hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 49-all. And after the Deacons' Brooke Thomas missed a shot in the lane, Amber White got the rebound and fired up a rainmaker that went through the hoop at the buzzer for a 51-49 win.
That turned out to be the Wolfpack's only victory over a one-month span, but the dry spell hardly killed the season. State and Wake are both 16-11 and 6-6 in ACC play, and will play tonight at Joel Coliseum with outright possession of fifth place in the conference on the line.
If the Wolfpack can spoil the Deacons' Senior Night game tonight and then win its own Senior Day contest on Sunday against Georgia Tech, it will finish fourth in the regular-season standings and earn a bye in the first round of the ACC Tournament beginning March 4 in Greensboro.
"I'm not into seeking revenge for every loss we get," Harper said during a press conference on Thursday in Raleigh. "I'm just concerned about how we play in March. ... This is a very competitive league where anybody can beat anybody. The results have proven that. I quit looking at the standings a couple of weeks ago because I couldn't figure it out."
The Wolfpack knows a lot about getting revenge.
In the current ACC schedule each team plays only three of its 11 conference opponents twice. State lost 83-66 at Boston College and came back for a 73-62 win at home, and lost at home 81-69 to UNC before shocking the Tar Heels 74-63 on Sunday in Chapel Hill.
"Leading up to the Wake Forest game, what we're talking to our players about is trying to remind them how they felt going into our second Boston College game, going into our second North Carolina game," Harper said. "And we're trying to recall those feelings and telling them 'That's how Wake Forest feels.'
"They (Wake players) really feel like they owe us, and we have to be sharper than ever going into this game and play harder than ever because we know they're going to. There's no doubt in my mind that they're going to give everything they have in that game, and we have got to match that or we won't come out of there with a win."
Gartrell said she knows the Deacons will be thinking about getting back at the Pack.
"That was a big game, even though Wake Forest isn't our rival like a Carolina or a Duke," said Gartrell, one of four seniors on the Wolfpack team. "Wake Forest is a great team, and that victory - just bearing down and playing for 40 minutes - showed our team we're capable of going places. But everybody has to do the little things in order to stay on top.
"We're going to have to bring it. That's the word we're going to have to use. If we go in there 'halfing' and half-box out and half-screen and don't do the little things then we won't come out successful. As a senior I'm going to make sure we do the things we need to do."
White agreed that tonight's assignment is a big challenge.
"They definitely think they owe us," White said. "Nikitta has kind of ripped their hearts out a couple of times. After the fashion in which we won, I'm sure they're dying to play us again. I know it's going to be a really tough environment. Wake Forest is a great team and it should be a battle."
N.C. State at Wake Forest
[Thursday, 7 p.m., Joel Coliseum]
NCSU leads series 59-8.
Records: NCSU 16-11, 6-6 ACC; WFU 16-11, 6-6 ACC.
Audio: WKNC-FM 88.1, GoPack.com.
Coaches' records - NCSU: Kellie Harper 113-76, 16-11 at NCSU; WFU: Mike Petersen 276-216, 88-86 at WFU.
Leading scorers - NCSU: Bonae Holston 11.9; WFU: Brittany Waters 13.5.
Leading rebounders - NCSU: Bonae Holston 6.2; WFU: Secily Ray 7.5.
Assist leaders - NCSU: Amber White 3.2; WFU: Brooke Thomas 4.1.