ACC

NC State women off to the team’s best basketball start ever, but it hasn’t been easy

N.C. State guard Kiara Leslie attempts a corner three over Duke center Jade Williams during their January 3, 2019 game at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh. The Wolfpack defeated the Blue Devils 63-51 for their 14th consecutive victory, which at the time tied their best start to a season in program history.
N.C. State guard Kiara Leslie attempts a corner three over Duke center Jade Williams during their January 3, 2019 game at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh. The Wolfpack defeated the Blue Devils 63-51 for their 14th consecutive victory, which at the time tied their best start to a season in program history.

They were supposed to be celebrating, but when the final buzzer sounded on a 63-51 victory last Thursday night in their conference opener against Duke, the N.C. State women’s basketball team instead looked deflated.

Just minutes before, the Wolfpack had watched guard Grace Hunter, one of their best players, helped off the floor with a right knee injury.

“The locker room was solemn,” head coach Wes Moore said. “There wasn’t a whole lot of celebrating going on.”

The victory tied the Wolfpack’s best start to a season in program history, equaling a 14-0 mark set by head coach Kay Yow’s 1999-2000 team.

This year’s team broke that record Sunday afternoon — defeating Boston College 85-69 on the road — in an effort inspired by their injured leader.

“When we came into that game, one of the things that was said in the huddle was that this one’s for Grace,” junior Ace Konig said. “We were definitely determined to take care of business.”

Injured starters

N.C. State might have only played two conference games, but they have already dealt with more adversity than many teams face in an entire season.

In October, the Wolfpack lost starting point guard Kaila Ealey to a season-ending knee injury during a preseason practice.

Now, they’ve lost their starting two-guard, as well. During Friday’s practice, the team received word that Hunter had torn her ACL, and would be out for the season.

But they still haven’t lost a single game. On both occasions, teammates have stepped up to fill the voids.

Konig assumed point guard duties and is having the most productive season of her collegiate career. She’s averaging more than four assists per game and shooting 45.1 percent from three-point range — 11 percent higher than last season, when she set the program’s single-season record with 91 threes made.

“In high school and AAU, I was a point guard,” Konig said. “With (Coach Moore) wanting to get his best options out on court, I ended up rotating to the two-position. So, this is kind of me coming back to what I’m used to and the position I love most on the floor.”

Team steps up

On Sunday, with Hunter forced to watch from Raleigh, it was Kiara Leslie who erupted for a career-high 31 points on 13-for-15 shooting.

Leslie transferred from Maryland as a graduate student, with two years of eligibility remaining, after suffering her own season-ending injury two seasons ago. She said she entered Sunday’s game with a more aggressive mindset than usual.

“I think we all understood that everyone would need to step up and contribute more,” Leslie said. “We did that coming out in the game.”

An earlier version of this story attributed a quote to the wrong person. The statement about the team stepping up was made by Kiara Leslie.

For now, Moore is hesitant to allow himself or his players to look too far down the schedule.

NCSU WBB vs Duke 010319.final CB-243.jpg
N.C. State women’s basketball head coach Wes Moore talks to his players during the Wolfpack’s January 3, 2019 victory over Duke at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh. Chris Baird

No matter what happens with the streak, if you ask Moore, he’ll likely tell you that the Wolfpack just have to take it game by game.

“I know it’s boring coach talk, but you just gotta take them one at a time,” Moore said.

He’ll say that, if his team continues to out-rebound opponents at their current ACC-best margin of 13.2 per game, they will always have a chance to win.

He’ll also insist that, if they continue to hold opponents to an ACC-best 33.3 field goal percentage, they will be able to withstand some of their own poor shooting nights.

And while Moore confessed that he’d forgotten about the winning streak until he spoke to local media after Sunday’s game — typical “boring coach talk” — he couldn’t deny that he feels honored to etch his name in the N.C. State record books.

“I haven’t thought about it that much,” Moore said of the record. “But I walk out on that court every day and see ‘Kay Yow Court’ inscribed on it, and now James Valvano’s name on the arena … I think about all of the great coaches that have been on that sideline, and I feel very blessed and privileged to be in that same arena, so to speak.”

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