Ranked for the first time in six seasons and in the midst of an eight-game winning streak, the N.C. State women’s basketball team is conjuring up memories of the glory years when Kay Yow patrolled the sideline and the Wolfpack was one of the elite programs in the NCAA.
N.C. State is 14-1 and ranked No. 20 after winning its ACC opener on Saturday over Syracuse, 67-61, in Reynolds Coliseum. The Pack made a stirring comeback after trailing the Orange by 10 points in the second half.
First-year head coach Wes Moore, the all-time wins leader in the Southern Conference after spending 15 seasons with the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, attributes the crowd support in Reynolds, which has swollen in recent weeks, as the main reason State was able to upend Syracuse.
“They have been great,” Moore said. “Look at the crowd. It has just been building, there was 35 hundred here on Saturday. There is no doubt that crowd helped us win that game. It was loud and it was a lot of fun. It has to intimidate opponents. Hopefully we’ll keep doing our part and it will keep building.”
In the basketball and coaching community, many feel that it is Moore—who worked on the staff of Kay Yow from 1993-95—that has brought excitement and respect back to the program that has floundered in recent seasons.
Within the Wolfpack community, there has been a palpable respect for the work Moore has done. N.C. State baseball head coach Elliott Avent, fresh off leading the Pack to its first College World Series in 45 years, thinks he knows why.
“There are some people who are just put on this earth to coach,” Avent said. “Wes is one of those guys. He is brilliant at preparing his team and adapting to situations. There is no doubt in my mind he will succeed at N.C. State. He has succeeded everywhere."
N.C. State Director of Athletics Debbie Yow hired Moore in April. So far, she has been thrilled with what she has seen, particularly with the tactics and his player’s response.
“Coach Moore does an extraordinary job of putting our team in the best possible position to succeed,” Yow said. “The players have done their part by working hard and that combination is exciting to watch develop.”
With the win giving the Pack its first national ranking in almost seven years, the excitement has seeped through to the locker room and basketball office in Reynolds Coliseum. Moore, however, feels it was winning the conference opener after dropping the first seven league games last season that was more important for his team.
“After the win they (his team) were excited,” Moore said. “And they deserve to be. I think it was very important that we got an ACC win early because of what they went through last year. At least now there is no way we are going to start the ACC season 0-and-something. That was important to get that monkey off our back.”
State travels to North Carolina tonight. The Tar Heels are ranked No. 13 in the nation and do not have a senior on the squad. It is the first time the two schools have faced each other in the regular season with both ranked since February, 2006.
“To be honest, being ranked is great for recruiting and the future,” Moore said. “I want to be in the last poll, not the one in January.”
Although he understands the rivalry and its importance to the fans, he is not caught up the hoopla. Moore takes the approach that all regular season games are equal.
“It is the game that is right now,” Moore said. “As soon as this game is over I am going to be worried about Wake Forest. I know the fans do not want to hear that. I understand it is a rivalry.
"At the end of the day, it all counts as one game. We have got to be prepared every day. I am hoping we play 100 percent every game.”
So far N.C. State has been giving maximum effort under Moore. If they win in Chapel Hill on Thursday, the Pack will match its best start in season since 1997-98.
That year the Wolfpack made the Final Four.