N.C. State 66, No. 24 Virginia 59

North Carolina State keeps gaining confidence with every game,

even in the face of a second-half scoring barrage from the Atlantic

Coast Conference’s top player.

Freshman Marissa Kastanek scored 15 points to help N.C. State

hold off Monica Wright and No. 24 Virginia 66-59 in Friday’s ACC

tournament quarterfinals, sending the Wolfpack to the semifinals

for the first time since a surprise run to the final three years

ago.

Nikitta Gartrell added 12 points for the sixth-seeded Wolfpack

(19-12), who built a 14-point lead midway through the second half

then came up with enough plays to hang on for the victory.

N.C. State faces seventh-seeded Boston College – which upset No.

8 Florida State on Friday night – on Saturday in what has become an

extended tournament debut for first-year coach Kellie Harper.

N.C. State, which started 2-5 in the ACC this year, has won six

of seven and is now halfway to its first league tournament title

since 1991.

“I think our kids are confident right now,” Harper said.

“They’re confident with how we’re playing and what we’re trying to

do and I think they’re confident in each other. Their mentality,

their emotions, what they say in the huddles, it’s what you want to

hear.”

Wright scored 22 of her 32 points in the final 12 minutes for

third-seeded Virginia (21-9), but she got little help. Her

teammates combined to shoot 9 for 36 (25 percent), leaving the

league player of the year to carry the burden alone.

“When the rest of the team was really not up to par, she tried

to will this team to win,” Virginia coach Debbie Ryan said.

“Usually one or two come with her. Tonight I didn’t feel like very

many were really on their games. It made it very difficult for her

to try to pull people through.”

She almost did it anyway. After going scoreless for 22 minutes

due mostly to foul trouble, Wright scored 17 straight points for

her team to help the third-seeded Cavaliers pull to 53-50 with 4:51

left.

But N.C. State kept finding just enough offense to keep Wright

at bay, getting a stickback from Sharnise Beal – who is playing

through a knee injury that has her limping up and down the floor –

on the ensuing possession to push the margin back to five and get

back momentum.

A few minutes later, Gartrell knocked down a 3-pointer over

Lexie Gerson to push the margin to 58-51 with 1:45 left.

“I just felt it, so I just shot it,” she said. “I felt like,

it’s my senior year, so you have to leave it all out there. I’d

rather me take it and miss it than a freshman take it and miss

it.”

The Cavaliers made a final push to get back to within four on

Wright’s layup, but Kastanek knocked down two free throws to push

the lead back up to 61-55 with 42.9 seconds left. That was part of

N.C. State’s clinching 7 for 8 performance at the foul line in the

final minute.

“We’ve had games like this where we dig ourselves a hole, and

we usually get out of it,” Wright said. “But this time, it just

seemed like the hole was too deep to try to work our way out

of.”

Wright got off to a fast start, scoring 10 of Virginia’s first

15 points. But she didn’t score again the rest of the half, sitting

a spell after picking up her second foul midway through the first

half before going back in and inexplicably picking up her third

foul by reaching in on rebounder Lucy Ellison.

As soon as the whistle blew, the red-clad Wolfpack fans in a

nearby section gave a loud cheer as Wright headed to the bench with

6:57 left in the half. Virginia didn’t manage much offense after

its star departed, getting just two field goals the rest of the

half.

N.C. State took momentum to the locker room when Kastanek took a

feed and made a hurried 3-pointer from the left corner at the horn

for a 27-24 lead. The Wolfpack didn’t let up, getting 3s from

Kastanek and Brittany Strachan to push the margin to 46-33 before

Wright finally got her first basket since that opening flurry.

Even then, N.C. State pushed the ball upcourt and answered with

another 3 from Kastanek for its largest lead at 49-35 with 11:32

left.