Kiara Leslie Drives Against Louisville

Graduate guard Kiara Leslie makes a move around Louisville guard Jazmine Jones during the ACC Tournament. Leslie had 10 points during the 78-68 loss to Louisville on Saturday, March 9 in Greensboro Coliseum.

The NC State women’s basketball team (26-5, 12-4 ACC) will take on the Maine Black Bears (25-7, 15-1 AEC) in the first round of the NCAA tournament Saturday at Reynolds Coliseum. NC State is the third seed in the Greensboro section of the bracket while Maine is the 14th seed.

Maine and NC State met in the regular season, with the Pack winning handily, 84-46. Since the blowout loss, the Black Bears are 18-4 including postseason play. The majority of the Black Bears’ wins since the loss to NC State have been blowout wins, and the last time the Black Bears lost in either regular season or postseason play was Jan. 16, with the team riding a 14-game winning streak.

Although Maine plays in a smaller conference and lost to the Pack earlier in the season, do not count the team out. Maine won the American East Conference dominantly. Maine also defeated teams such as ninth-seeded UNC-Chapel Hill and 23-10 conference rival Hartford twice.

The Black Bears are led in scoring by guard Blanca Millan, who averages 17.6 points per game, which is more thanany individual Wolfpack player. Other Black Bears starters include guards Tanesha Sutton, Parise Rossignol and Dor Saar, who all score in double digits per game. Forward Fanny Wadling plays in the middle for Maine and collects the majority of the team’s rebounds.

Meanwhile, the Pack is coming off an ACC Tournament loss to the Louisville Cardinals who then suffered a blowout loss to Notre Dame. Freshman center Elissa Cunane played strongly in both of the Pack’s ACC tournament games, with the first game being a win over Florida State. Cunane scored over 20 points or more in both games and collected a combined 15 rebounds.

The Pack will need to rely on Cunane and senior forward DD Rogers to grab many rebounds and score inside to expose the Black Bears’ overall lack of size. Maine primarily relies on 5-foot-10 Sutton and 6-foot-1 Wadling to grab their rebounds, as they average 7.4 and 9.0 per game respectively.

However; Millan, the Black Bears’ star guard, has a decent overall skillset. She averages 4.3 rebounds and a strong 2.8 steals per game. Millan is also surrounded by shooters Rossignol and Saar, who both shoot over 37 percent from 3-point land, while Rossignol shoots an impressive 41.2 percent from beyond the arc.

Luckily, the Pack is a decent 3-point shooting team, shooting 34 percent as a team while only allowing opponents to shoot 32 percent from the same range.

In the previous matchup between the two squads, the Pack held the Black Bears to just 46 points and forced them to shoot a miserable 24.4 percent from 3-point range and just 27 percent overall. Maine’s leading scorer was bench guard Kelly Fogarty, who finished the game with 13 points.

On the other hand, the Pack dominated all around in the previous game, having five players finish with double digit points and grabbed 50 rebounds compared to Maine’s 26. This blowout game was despite the Pack finishing with more turnovers than Maine. However, the Pack drew far more fouls than Maine, shooting 16 free throws compared to Maine’s four.

While the Pack can employ many of the same strategies it used to defeat Maine in the previous game, many things have changed since the outing. As mentioned before, Maine is on a 14 game winning streak and will likely play harder than before in order to try and upset the Pack. Secondly, in the previous game the Pack was able to rely on redshirt junior guard Grace Hunter, redshirt senior guard Armani Hawkins and junior forward Erika Cassell for scoring, all of whom are out for the season with injuries.

However, in the last game Cunane had not yet emerged as a primary scoring option for the Pack and will certainly be utilized more in the first-round matchup. If Cunane can get it going, and graduate guard Kiara Leslie and junior guard Aislinn Konig can shoot at an efficient clip, the Pack should have little trouble containing the Black Bears.

If the Pack comes away with a victory over Maine, the team will next play either the sixth-seeded Kentucky Wildcats or the 11th-seeded Princeton Tigers.

The Pack will take on the Black Bears on Saturday at Reynolds Coliseum. The game tips off at 1:00 p.m. and can be viewed on ESPN2.