Forecasts for Thursday night call for rain and sleet outside the KFC Yum! Center, but inside the prediction is a rain of threes and tears. Tears of joy and camaraderie, that is.
The #3 Louisville Cardinals are set to face the #10 Wolfpack of NC State on Senior Night as the program prepares to say farewell to the departing class of Asia Durr, Arica Carter, and Sam Fuehring. But as Jeff Walz put it on Wednesday, there’s far more than a few tears at stake. Per the conference office, it’s the first time in 42 years of ACC women’s basketball that the tournament seeding has not been decided as teams enter the last week of regular season play.
Louisville (25-2, 12-2 ACC) sits on the #2 ACC tournament seed line just ahead of the Wolfpack (24-3, 11-3 ACC), with both teams just behind a 13-3 in the ACC Notre Dame. A win for the Cardinals would essentially lock them in to the #2 seed with the only remaining game versus last in the league Pitt, while Notre Dame’s only remaining contest is with a struggling Virginia. A loss for the Cardinals could easily drop them to the #4 seed. As for NC State, the final two game stretch could also go any number of ways. After Louisville, the Wolfpack will face off with a tough Miami team that shares the #3/#4 line with a matching 11-3 conference record. And depending on tonight’s outcome that could also have serious connotations for Louisville. Both Miami and NC State could potentially drop out of the top four depending on the outcome of Syracuse vs Florida State. Needless to say, both teams have a lot to win and a lot to lose. So who wants it more?
Coefficient of Friction
NC State looked unstoppable to start the season as they rattled off 21 straight wins. After dropping a clunker against North Carolina for their first loss they headed into heaviest portion of their conference schedule and came up short in games against #22 Florida State and #4 Notre Dame. Getting to their 24-3 record has a lot to do with defense and a very tough interior.
- Defensive FG% – 1st ACC / 11th NCAA (34.9%)
- 58.6 points allowed per game
- Defensive FG% – 1st ACC / 11th NCAA (34.9%)
- Defensive Rebounds – 1st ACC / 3rd NCAA (33 per game)
- Avg. Rebound Margin – 1st ACC / 9th NCAA (+10.0)
Offensively and defensively the Wolfpack are led by graduate guard #11 Kiara Leslie. An all around player, Leslie leads in PPG (16.0), steals (1.3), blocks (0.8), and is just two-tenths of a rebound shy of leading the team on the glass. The downside is this puts a gigantic target on her back, and she also happens to lead the team in fouls committed.
On the inside, NC State has 6’5″ freshman center Elissa Cunane who’s come on very strong of late. After moving into a starting spot for the last four games she’s now averaging 13.0 PPG and 5.5 rebounds but is extremely prone to turnovers. Senior forward D.D. Rogers is in the power position and leads the Wolfpack with 7.6 rebounds per game. Feeding the paint from the point is junior guard Aislinn Konig and her 3.9 assists per game with a 1.8 assist/turnover ratio.
While the Cardinals are more powerful offensively, they’re not defensive slouches either. At 59.2 points allowed per game they sit just behind NC State for the best defense in the conference. In fact, counting only conference match-ups Louisville has a slight edge over the Wolfpack. Holding opponents to under 50 points in 7 of the last 12 games certainly doesn’t hurt the average.
Park Community will donate $1 to Gilda’s Club of Louisville for every fan in attendance over 8,000. If the assembled masses reach the 12,900 mark then Cardinals WBB will have averaged 10,000 fans per game on the season. That’s a mark that hasn’t been reached since the inaugural season at the KFC Yum! Center. Here are the keys for giving the crowd a fitting Senior Night victory and a triumphant send-off for Durr, Carter, and Fuehring.
1) Go The Distance
The Cardinals are shooting a best in the ACC 37.8% from three-point range on the season and while NC State has a nearly impenetrable interior, they slack off a bit in terms of perimeter defense. Dana Evans continues her push for 6th-player of the year off the bench and remains deadly accurate from distance, shooting 43.0% from beyond the arc. Arica Carter sits not far behind and, if I can believe my eyes, Kylee Shook is now 40.5% from three-point range on 42 attempts. Shook may not yet have the strength to muscle it down low (although she’s much improved) but her new dual-threat status will allow her to rain it down from long range.
2) Under Pressure
If you throw a ball in the general direction of Sam Fuehring she’ll do just about anything to secure that thing. That tenacity will come in handy against the Wolfpack’s center Cunane who, despite a size advantage, is prone to give up the ball if pressured. The rest is about overcoming the issues that plagued the Cardinals in their loss to Miami. NC State’s Leslie will use her speed and intensity to drive the ball low to create easy layup opportunities or find Cunane or Rogers open as the weak side help moves over to cut off the lane. Bionca Dunham will need to be very careful about not picking up early fouls, as the entire defensive dynamic shifts with her on the bench.
3) Attack, attack, attack
The Wolfpack are a great defensive team, but you can get them in trouble quickly if you put Leslie on the bench with fouls. She’s already fouled out twice this season, and her absence would put a big dent in the NC State offensive scheme. Durr, Carter, and Jones can all move the ball well and rotate. Attack the middle and force a foul or find an open passing lane for a quick three. Dana Evans had a lot of luck doing the same against Boston College last Sunday. The Cardinals have to refuse to be intimidated by the Wolfpack size in the middle.
While it’s likely we’ll be seeing the women back in action at the Yum! Center for the early NCAA tournament rounds, it’s always a special occasion when you can give the seniors the pomp and circumstance that is their due. Three more wins and they’ll become the winningest class in school history. One of those coming against the #10 Wolfpack would certainly be a sweet addition to that accolade.
NC State – #1 Aislinn Konig (Jr.-G), #3 Kai Crutchfield (So.-G), #11 Kiara Leslie (Gr.-G), #21 D.D. Rogers (Sr.-F), #33 Elissa Cunane (Fr.-C)
Louisville – Durr (Sr.-G), Carter (R-Sr.-G), Fuehring (Sr.-F), Dunham (Jr.-F), Jones (Jr.-G)
Date: 7:00 p.m. EST Thurs., 28 Feb.
Site: KFC Yum! Center – Louisville, KY
Video: ACCNE-WatchESPN / Radio: WKRD 790 AM
Officials: Eric Brewton, Bruce Morris, Mark Resch