Scouting Report: 2002 was perhaps Kay Yow's most difficult as a coach.
A year after finishing as the runner-up in the ACC Tournament, State was
expected to contend for the league crown. Instead, a series of injuries,
defections at key positions and other assorted mishaps, combined with the
league's most brutal non-conference schedule, resulted in the Wolfpack Women
missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1994. The first blow
landed against State was point guard Terah James tearing her ACL for a second
time before the season began. A player who should be going into her senior year
will instead be only a sophomore in terms of experience (officially a junior
in terms of eligibility), and her effectiveness is now a question
mark. The Pack struggled to get consistent play from the point guard spot
and were further hurt when backup Daphne Hutcherson left the team. While
not a big contributor, she was at the very least a solid practice player.
The biggest blow of all came when co-captain Ivy Gardner decided to quit the
game. Gardner was the squad's best perimeter defender and the team's toughest
player. Her absence crippled the team for weeks, and State never did develop
a stable perimeter game.
2002 Roundup: 13-14, 7-9 ACC
Head Coach: Kay Yow
Who's Coming Back:
Strengths: Size, post game, defense
Concerns: Perimeter shooting, penetration, turnovers
While the 2001 Pack took off when Tynesha Lewis was installed as point
guard as well as its chief scorer and defender, the 2002 edition never found
someone who could fill her roles. Nanna Rivers would have made a nice
backup but wasn't ready to make a significant impact. Rachel Stockdale
had nice range on her jumper but her ballhandling and inexperience limited
her effectiveness at times. This weakness was particularly frustrating
for State because their frontcourt was so outstanding. Kaayla Chones came
back from an injury that took away her 2001 season and returned to dominant
form. Carisse Moody's numbers were down somewhat from her breakthrough 2001
season, but she was still an offensive force. But team after team simply
zoned the Pack all game long, and when they couldn't hit their jumpers
(which was often), they would lose. At a certain point, the losses eroded
their confidence, because this really was a team that was much better
than its record indicated. Substitute a few of their incredibly tough
non-conference games with a cupcake or two, and you may have had a State
team that was a bit looser in the ACC season--especially after losing
both James and Gardner. With six losses by margins of 6 or less, NC State
really was quite close to having a winning season in 2002.
The Pack began the year as a top ten team and immediately started against
good competition. In their own tournament, they nipped a top-30 club in
Drake for the championship. Chones looked a bit rusty coming back from
a year off due to injury, but Moody stayed on the roll she had been on
throughout 2001. After nipping a good George Washington team at home,
they went on the road to edge an Indiana squad that would wind up winning
the Big Ten tournament. The Pack came home to blow away top-20 Old
Dominion, a game where Gardner went wild. After a gimme against Charleston
Southern, the Pack were humbled by #2 Tennessee in the Honda Elite Classic.
State couldn't stop Tennessee's great guard Kara Lawson and were hammered
on the boards. At this point, the Pack probably could have used a chance
to lick their wounds against an easy opponent, but instead they went to
Wisconsin and got pounded by an RPI top-30 club.
Worse than that was the news that Gardner was leaving. That left the
Pack with little experience on the perimeter. A trip to Cancun for a
tournament should have been a chance for the Pack to beat some good clubs
and get ready for the ACC season, but it instead turned into a disaster.
They were stomped in every facet of the game by a decent Mississippi State
team and a bad Pitt club. They limped into the ACC season with a 7-5 mark.
Fortunately, Wake was first on the agenda, and they got well quickly against
the Deacs. Then the Pack got more bad news: Carisse Moody was injured
and would miss a few games. State was handled easily by Virginia, who made
a mockery of their defense by shooting 53%. But the Pack bounced back by
controlling Georgia Tech and then staging a big upset of UNC. Without
Moody, career role players Simpson and Scates had the best performances of
their careers. Suddenly 3-1 in the ACC and 10-6 overall, things were
The Pack had a real opportunity to move up against top ten Duke, a game
played in Raleigh. The Pack had won two in a row at home against the Devils,
and were within shouting distance at the end thanks to some good shooting.
But they couldn't quite pull it off, and the sting of that loss seemed to
haunt them in uninspiring road losses to FSU and Clemson. They bounced
back against Maryland and Wake Forest, but lost three in a row to ACC teams
with some momentum: Virginia, Georgia Tech and UNC. That last loss left
them at 11-12 and killed their postseason chances. They finished out the
year playing with little consistency: a tight win against FSU, a blowout
loss to Duke, a tough road win against Maryland, a home loss to a Clemson
team that really needed a win to get to the NCAA tournament.
Still, no one wanted to play them in the ACC tournament. Given new life,
the Pack stung Clemson in the first round, concentrating on shutting down
everyone except Chrissy Floyd. Offensively, everyone stepped up, especially
the guards. The Pack then blew a 9 point halftime lead against UNC, but
gave them quite a scare. Assessing what went wrong for the Pack is simple:
they simply didn't get enough consistent production from the perimeter. That's
in terms of shooting, penetration and setting up easy scores. Even when
they got to the foul line, they only shot 67% as a team. The Pack were
just 31% from the three point line and didn't have anyone generate easy
points with steals; they were last in the ACC there. Furthermore, their
20 turnovers a game made things easier for their opponents; for a team
trying to run a slowdown type of game, this was anathema.
Fortunately for the Pack, their personnel losses from 2002 aren't that
significant. Beyond Gardner and Hutcherson, who had left in midseason,
the Pack also lost frosh Kelly Greathouse to transfer and Talisha Scates.
Greathouse was heralded as the next great Pack post player, but injuries
and other factors prevented her from getting much burn. Scates was an
excellent career-long role player who got the garbage rebounds and stickbacks
when needed and was generally quite unselfish. There are a number of
other players who could do what she did on this team, however.
Point guard is still a concern for this team. James is back and appears
to be healthy. If she can last a whole season, the Pack will be a very
different team. James was one of the steadier frosh in the league in 2000
and especially relished top-flight competition. Rivers would then be an
excellent back-up option after all of the experience she gained in 2002.
Rivers didn't prove to be much of an offensive threat, but she took care of
the ball (fourth best assist/turnover ratio in the ACC) and got it where
it needed to be (third in the ACC in assists). Again, if James stays healthy,
then the Pack are as set at point as anyone in the league.
Off guard is another story, however. Rachel Stockdale emerged as a
decent three point presence (8th in the league in threes made), but a 29%
clip was not exactly impressive. Her shot selection was questionable at
times, but her presence did serve to stretch defenses. However, an arthritic
knee has put her season in jeopardy. A more intriguing player is Kendra Bell.
While her size (5-5) was a handicap at times, she is so quick and aggressive
that she could be a real difference-maker as a soph. Like all of State's
guards, she must improve her shooting (26% from three, 51% from the line).
Another guard who could contribute is Amelia Labador, who is a very good
shooter (41% from three) but does very little else. Labador could be effective
if others get her the ball in open spots. The same could be said for soph Liz
Bailey; 51 of her 59 shots came from long range, but she's not adept at much
else. Another candidate for playing time is frosh Billie McDowell, an athletic
top-100 guard whose track experience indicates that she could have the quickness
to provide a defensive presence and get to the basket.
Wing will be dominated by senior Amy Simpson, a solid player who must
become a more consistent scorer. When she was on from the perimeter, State
suddenly became a very difficult team to defend. When she wasn't, you
could simply cheat on the post players and not worry about it. Top 100
recruit Jennifer Filipowski will get a chance to back her up. She's something
of a question mark because she sat out her senior year with a torn ACL and
who just recently had her knee scoped again. Stockdale will also swing over
to wing at times if available, and you might even see Olanrewaju there when
the Pack go big.
Speaking of big, the post is where the Pack have elite-level talent.
It begins with powerful Kaayla Chones, an imposing presence inside. A very
good scorer (15th in the league), she shot 57% from the floor, was fourth
in blocked shots and 6th in rebounding. What she doesn't do well is hold
on to the ball or hit free throws (63%). While she was quite good last
year, she should be even better this year, given that she's had a year
to adjust to her injury and should start to receive better passes. Chones
represents the brawn portion of the frontcourt, while Moody is all about
finesse. Her injury definitely slowed down her scoring ability and limited
her quickness. When healthy, she's difficult to stop inside because she's
quite accurate from short range and loves to hit contested leaners. Backing
them up is the ultra-athletic Olenrewaju, a rangy player who can play any
of three frontcourt positions. Another interesting factor is Kentucky
transfer Alvine Mendeng. While Kentucky is not exactly a great program,
she did start every game as a frosh and was the team's second leading
rebounder. She should have a significant impact off the bench for the Pack.
The Pack have a lot of parts, but few complete players. They don't have
explosively athletic players who can create their own shots. They aren't
a run & gun team that is exciting to watch. Their guards have potential
but there are no real standouts. Despite all that, they have everything
it takes to win and a frontcourt that could dominate almost every
club in the ACC. If the Pack gel in the way I think they're capable, they
will truly be a team greater than the sum of its parts, especially if the
three newcomers can contribute and James comes all the way back from her
injuries. The biggest key is that they must find at least one consistent
long-range shooter; if they don't, their backcourt will be jammed by zones
all season long. This team has not received a whisper of support for top 25
status, but I don't think that will be the case by the end of the year.
Remember, despite their overall record, they weren't far away from having
a winning ACC mark. At this point, I'm tabbing them for fourth, though
if it all comes together for them, they could challenge for the league
title. Lastly, never underestimate Hall of Fame coach Kay Yow. If anyone
can make all the parts fit together, it's her.
- Strength of Schedule: 2.9 (First in the ACC.)
- Marquee Matchups: UConn, Washington, UCSB, BYU, @Old Dominion
- Mid-Majors: Iowa, Florida/Houston, South Alabama/Loyola Marymount
- Tune-Ups: East Carolina, Elon, @Seton Hall
- Predicted finish: Fourth