North Carolina State has been nearly perfect in NCAA Tournament games in its hometown.
Standing between the Wolfpack and another Sweet 16 appearance is Kentucky and its turnover-forcing press.
Third-seeded N.C. State (27-5) faces the sixth-seeded Wildcats (25-7) on Monday night in a second-round matchup with the winner advancing to the semifinals in the Greensboro Region.
These teams want to play in drastically different ways. Kentucky wants to speed things up, ranking eighth in Division I by forcing a Southeastern Conference-best 21.4 turnovers per game.
N.C. State’s path to victory involves controlling the glass: The Wolfpack rank 13th in the nation with an average rebounding margin of plus-8.8.
“One way to slow it down is to get stops, and a big part of that is making sure they only get one shot a possession, and that we continue to do a great job on the boards,” N.C. State coach Wes Moore said Sunday. “It definitely creates a big challenge for us.”
The Wolfpack, who are ranked 10th in the national rankings, have been tough to beat in NCAA Tournament games in Raleigh, improving to 15-2 all-time while not losing one since 1983. N.C. State also hasn’t lost at home to any non-Atlantic Coast Conference opponent since 2015, running the streak to 28 in a row with a 63-51 first-round victory over Maine.
Kentucky, which is ranked 17th, figures to present a formidable test. The Wildcats have been tournament regulars, with their run of eight consecutive appearances ending last year.
But leaving Lexington for the opening weekend brings a new set of challenges. Kentucky’s first-round victory over Princeton marked its first out-of-town tournament game since 2014 and its first NCAA victory outside the commonwealth since the regional semifinals the year before. The current team is 6-3 in road games.
“I feel like we’ve been playing really well on the road this year, and we’re ready for the challenge,” guard Jaida Roper said.
Some things to know about the Kentucky-N.C. State matchup:
Both teams have impact freshmen getting their first taste of the tournament. Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard, the SEC’s newcomer of the year, averages a team-best 16.3 points and scored 15 in her NCAA Tournament debut. For N.C. State, Elissa Cunane has bolstered the front line, averaging 13 points and 5.9 rebounds with at least nine rebounds in three of her past six games.
N.C. State is one of the least foul-prone teams in the country. Only Colorado State averages fewer than the Wolfpack’s 12.3 fouls per game. They were called for just six fouls against Maine and the Black Bears did not attempt a free throw. So do the Wolfpack get all the calls? Guard Aislinn Konig says one key to their success is something Moore frequently preaches. “Never foul a jump shooter,” she said. “Always allow them to miss.”
The schools haven’t met since 1995 but Moore and Mitchell are familiar with each other. Mitchell was a graduate assistant to Pat Summitt at Tennessee about 20 years ago when Moore took the Chattanooga job, and Moore said he wound up paying Mitchell $100 to help lay the sod at his house. … Retiring N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow coached at Kentucky from 1976-80 and went up against her sister — late Hall of Fame coach Kay Yow — in the 1980 AIAW Tournament in Raleigh. The Wolfpack won 71-63.
N.C. State also was hosting a men’s National Invitation Tournament game Sunday night, and that meant a busy day at Reynolds Coliseum. Shortly after the Wildcats and Wolfpack finished their afternoon practices, workers were to begin removing the NCAA logos from the court and affixing new lines for the NIT’s experimental rules — an extended 3-point line, a wider lane — for the second-round game against Harvard. The Wolfpack men played at Reynolds because the other tenant at PNC Arena — the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes — was playing Montreal on Sunday night.