by Mike Potter
GREENSBORO COLISEUM Somebody wants to write a Cinderella story out of the ACC Women's Basketball Tournament this season, and the candidate is going to come out of this second semifinal game.
Waiting in tomorrow's 1 p.m. title contest will be No. 8 Duke, which has played in the last two conference finals and knows exactly what the finals are all about.
Those candidates for the glass slipper are No. 6 seed N.C. State, a team common wisdom says is headed for the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens today, and No. 7 seed Boston College, which just needs to keep winning unless it plans to head to one of the two post-season consolation tournaments.
BC is coming off a very big upset over No. 2 seed Florida State, while the Wolfpack is coming off an impressive although probably less shocking conquest of No. 3 seed Virginia.
It's the 33rd edition of the tournament, and never have No. 6 and No. 7 seeds squared off in the semifinals.
The regular season results don't offer much predictive help, as the Eagles rolled 83-66 on Jan. 10 in Chestnut Hill and the Wolfpack got revenge 74-63 on Feb. 21 at Reynolds Coliseum.
And as is obvious, it's a matchup between Eagle size and Wolfpack speed with State holding on to win 63-57.
BC leads 29-23 at halftime after Nikitta Gartrell and Bonae Holston combine to score all but two of the Wolfpack's points.
But the second half is 20 minutes of magic for Kellie Harper's club, cheered on loudly by the partisan crowd of 9,106.
Perhaps an omen comes when junior Lucy Ellison hits the first 3-pointer of her career to cut BC's lead to 31-29 with 17:38 left.
The Eagles stretch their lead out to 46-36 on a Jaclyn Thoman layup at 9:00. State's Marissa Kastanek hits a 3-pointer at 8:44 for her first points of the game.
Big Carolyn Swords responds with a layup to make it 48-39 at 8:19 before the Wolfpack hits 15 straight points for a six-point lead, and free throws down the stretch are the difference.
The only missed free throw for either team comes in the final 23 seconds. But Holston goes to the line for two with four seconds left and hits both to lock up the win.
Gartrell finishes with a career-high 25 points to 15 for Holston and nine for Kastanek.
Swords has 24 points and 10 rebounds, while Thoman chips in 16 points.
BC outshoots the Wolfpack 42.9 to 37.7 and wins the rebound battle 32-26, but commits 18 turnovers to State's 12. The Wolfpack is 17-for-18 from the free-throw line while BC is 9-for-10, the best combined performance in the history of the tournament.
They said it:
NCSU coach Kellie Harper: "Words can't describe how proud I am of this group of girls. They showed so much heart and poise, and a lot of guts tonight. Boston College is a fabulous basketball team. They're playing really well right now. It makes this win even more special to beat a team that good. And, again, you know when you walk in the locker room and see these girls rewarded for believing in our system, believing in our philosophy, working every day to improve, it just puts a smile on your face."
BC coach Sylvia Crawley: "It was very disappointing to get this far and not come out with a win tonight. Our players are hurting because they work hard and they deserve to win. However, we did some things that didn't put us in position to win. ... We'll stay, we'll watch the game tomorrow. Our players have never been here before. I want them to just see it and have that experience. As a player I watched the championship game (in 1993.) I watched someone else cut down my nets. And as a captain I said to my team, 'Nobody else is cutting down my nets next year. Those are my nets.' And I was an ACC Champion next year (for UNC in 1994.)"
Gartrell: "It's a wonderful feeling knowing that I scored those points for my teammates and that we actually get to play in the ACC Championship. Most of all for my teammates. Most of them have not been through anything like this. I feel great right now. I'm ready for tomorrow."
Holston: "I think that an ice bath helps a lot (heading into the final). It keeps your legs under you. And it will give you energy for the next day. You pretty much rest, and that's all you can do."
What does it all mean?
That the Wolfpack appears to be a mortal lock for the NCAA Tournament. BC is probably headed to the WNIT or the WBI, since there just isn't going to be room for nine ACC teams in the tournament.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Inga Muciniece's jumper with 5:38 left to put State up for good at 50-48.
State leads series 6-5.
NCSU: Won 4.
BC: Lost 1.
N.C. State vs. Duke, Sunday, 1 p.m.