Story Poster
Wes Moore
Elissa Cunane
Kai Crutchfield
NC State Women's Basketball

LOCKER ROOM REPORT: Wolfpack Advances Past Yellow Jackets To ACC Championship

March 6, 2021

Second-seeded NC State head coach Wes Moore, junior center Elissa Cunane, and senior guard Kai Crutchfield met with the media via Zoom following the Wolfpack's 66–61 win over three-seed Georgia Tech Saturday afternoon.

NOTE: Click on each thumbnail to watch each press conference in the player above.

Wes Moore

Opening Statement

“First of all, just have to give Georgia Tech so much credit. Defensively they were unbelievable. We had a hard time matching up. The first half Lahtinen, 14 points, we switched at halftime and put Kai Crutchfield on her and I thought she did a nice job. And then Cubaj was down low, was just tearing it up. Again, I think they're going to do real well in the NCAA Tournament. I think they've got a chance to make a run.

“I am proud of our kids, though. At halftime we were getting out-rebounded, we were getting out-hustled, fast-break points, second-chance points, everything, and felt like in the second half we hung in there in the third quarter and then the fourth quarter they just found a way to win. That's what they do.

“I thought Kai Crutchfield was big-time for us, stepping up in clutch moments in the fourth quarter. She just has a way of doing that. But she knocked down a three, she got to the rim, she saved the ball down on the baseline, and like I said, we switched her to Lahtinen the second half, and I think she had four points. And then obviously Elissa Cunane is still who we want to run through and thought she did a great job, as well.”

It seemed like in the first half especially they really wanted to play physical against Elissa. Do you think that that's something that kind of fires her up and gets her going as the game goes along?

“Yeah, I don't know. You know, again, obviously she's an important part of our offense and what we do, so it's tough on her, because if people really get physical with her, she has to maintain her composure and be under control and make sure she doesn't get in foul trouble. And she did pick up some today, picked up her third foul there in the third quarter, so we took her out for a little while.

“Yeah, it's tough. It's tough when they know that you're trying to go to them and they're just, like I said, being very physical with her and trying to help and big and double. Like I said, I'm proud of the way she fought and handled it.

“Again, she's just so critical to what we do, and proud of her.”

You always say, never underestimate the heart of a champion. How much of that fourth quarter was just your team's will to win, knowing how to win and just refusing to go down?

“Yeah, I really felt like the first half Georgia Tech just played harder than us. I don't know any other way to put it. I mean, they out-scored us in fast-break points, they had out-rebounded us, they had out-scored us second-chance points. Just again, this time of year, people are stepping up and taking it to another level, and you have to match that intensity or you're going home.

“Again, felt like the first half they just hit us in the mouth and took it to us, and second half we competed a lot better, and like you said, I think it's what champions do. They find a way to win.”

Talk about what you did last time against Louisville when you beat them at their place, what you did really well, obviously, and how you think you can duplicate that again.

“Yeah, I'll be honest with you. That was a while back, and I don't even remember. At my age, I forget all kinds of stuff.

“As soon as I get done with you guys, I'll go next door and get tested and we'll go back to the hotel, and my assistants have already put together the clips. I'll go through those, edit them a little bit and then we'll try to show the team tonight, the film, and go over scout.

“Louisville is a great team, and I know we're going to definitely get their A game tomorrow. I know they're excited about getting another opportunity to play us, and we're going to, quite honestly, have to play better than we've played in these first two games.

“We found a way to win, but I wouldn't say we're clicking by any means.

“Tomorrow we're going to have to have it all come together. We're going to have to match their intensity, and we're going to have to execute a little bit better offensively and hopefully shoot the ball a little bit better because Louisville is going to score points. Dana Evans and those kids, Van Lith, they're going to score points. They've got a lot of weapons over there, obviously.

“It's going to be a great game, and like I say, I just hope we come out and play well, and if we do that, it'll be a good day.”

They're a team that really wanted a slow tempo. Looked like they tried to shorten the game a little bit. You mentioned the first half, the way they played. When you play a team like that, what can be your message coming out of the half? Is it just challenging your team to play harder?

“I'll tell you, that's what I did at halftime, yes. Tried to challenge them. I didn't want to go home, to be quite honest. I'm not ready to go home. I want to play one more game. I always tell them, the longer we stay over here, the more days we take off next week and give them a little bit of a break. But I did, I thought Georgia Tech just came out, as y'all mentioned, was more physical than us. They're a great rebounding team. They've got four people that can rebound, including their point guard Fletcher. She had three offensive rebounds at halftime, and that's what she does. And then Cubaj and I guess Hermosa, again, they're great on the boards, as well.

“We knew it was going to be a physical game. We knew it was going to be a challenge. We played really well down in Atlanta. I thought the first half at Georgia Tech may be the best game or the best 20 minutes we've played this year, and I don't know if maybe we thought, oh, it's going to be like that, but this Georgia Tech team is for real, and you'd better be ready for 40 minutes.”

You guys struggled with your free throws a little bit last night, but you went 12 of 13 from the line today. How much of a difference do you think that made and was that a discussion point before the game?

“We don't talk a whole lot about those. I don't want them thinking about them too much to be honest with you. And I felt like we struggled shooting the ball, but we were 6 for 16 from three. That's a pretty good percentage.

“I guess you've just got to give it to Georgia Tech that they were defensively making it tough for us to run or stuff. I know they got a few more shots than we did, even though we out-rebounded them.

“They're just a defensive-minded team. They're tough, and like I said, I've always said rebounding is the most important part of the game, and Georgia Tech does a heck of a job of that. I'm glad we were able to -- I think the second half they maybe just had one offensive rebound, which is pretty amazing.

“Our kids stepped up and played with some toughness, and our seniors, Kayla Jones and Kai Crutchfield stepped up and found a way to get it done. Got one more ahead of us, and again, we know it's going to be a tough one. It's going to be a great challenge. I'm excited about being back in that game.”

As a separate question, winning the game in comeback fashion in the fourth quarter like that, do you think that's something that can carry over into the championship game in terms of energy?

“I hope so. Like I said, I felt like we didn't have enough energy in the first half today, so I hope maybe this will give them a little bit of -- a little mojo and we can get going. Obviously tomorrow is an early day, 12:00 noon tip, so we'll have to get going pretty early. But I do like the fact our kids have been there before, they've been in that game, most of them, and feel comfortable playing in it. But like I said, Louisville, a lot of talent, great coach. It's tough. It's a big game for us, and like I said, we'll have to play really well.

“I hope we have that momentum and some mojo.”

You've played Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech. How much is that making your team a better team, and on top of that would you still rate the ACC as probably the most deep conference in the nation?

“Yeah, I'll tell you what, there's a lot of really good teams that are being overlooked. I've said all year long, I think Wake Forest is really good, obviously Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech. Kenny and them, the second half of the season they were as hot as anybody. Obviously Syracuse, look what they did. They were missing six players, I think, today. It's amazing. Including their leader, Tiana. She's going to hopefully be back in time for the NCAA Tournament. They're going to be a very dangerous team. You don't want to play them.

“I think we're going to be well represented in the NCAA Tournament. You know, I had people ask me questions, well, the Syracuse game, you let them come back and take the lead. Were you disappointed? Are you kidding me? Syracuse is undefeated at home this year, okay? Like I'm going to be disappointed we got out of there with a win? All these games, I mean, these teams are good. They've got scholarships and everything, just like we do. You'd better play 40 minutes and put it all together or you're going to get your butt kicked. That's why I'm proud of our team. I think there's some teams with five or six losses that are just as talented as us, but I'm proud of our kids for showing up every night consistently with effort and finding a way to win because there's such a fine line between the top-8 teams in this league or so.

“You know, again, yeah, we think it's going to be well represented. We think these teams can do some great things. Like I said, we're just very fortunate that our kids have been as consistent as they have, especially this year.”

Elissa Cunane

Could you assess what Kai Crutchfield gave to you guys in the fourth quarter and how big her performance was? Just kind of kick starting everything?

“Yeah, we've been calling her Kai Clutchfield all season. She's a senior who wants to win every single game she steps on the court to play and she's going to give her all for it. Kai is so smart, she knows the ins and outs of the defense and she knows how to step up in big games, and she's done that repeatedly over the season.”

You were down by 10 and she made that three-point play where she drove to the basket. How much did that change everything, the attitude, the vibe for you guys?

“It was huge. That was a turning point in the game for Kai to step up and make that knock-down free throw. That was what really changed our momentum and got us fired up to finish it out in the fourth quarter.”

What are you doing differently this ACC Tournament? You just seem like you're on a complete mission just to prove everything.

“Yeah, you know, it's tournament time, so I definitely stepped up my game. I know that there's not a lot of people out there that can guard me, if my teammates are getting me the ball, and we've been shooting it really well from the outside so that leaves up the middle to be open. I'm just trying to step up my game and play as hard as I can for my team.”

What's it like playing so close to home in this tournament?

“It's been great. It's not necessarily the advantage that it has been with all the fans here, but we still run out and there's a sea of red in the seats that are available. It feels like a home game when we step out here and knowing that this is kind of like my hometown, it means a little bit extra.”

How are you going to approach Louisville tomorrow? I know you guys had a big win at their place, so they're looking for some revenge no doubt. What are you going to do better or differently to try to overcome that?

“Yeah, Louisville is a great team. It'll definitely be a good game tomorrow. We've just got to go out there and play basketball how we know how to play. We're not going to adjust ourselves. We're going to do what we need to do. We're going to follow scout and execute everything that we can and just play NC State ball.”

What do you feel like you did so well in that first game against them that you think you can repeat?

ELISSA CUNANE: I think we executed really well. I think that we were just hyped to play them. We had a lot of energy going in there trying to beat the No. 1 team. I think we have to bring that same energy tomorrow and just be able to execute what Coach wants us to do.”

How do you guys in the fourth quarter, down 10, remain calm and not panic?

“We just had to be level headed. We've been on this court before. We know what it's like to be down and come back. We've had to do it a couple times throughout the season. We just really had to have confidence in ourselves. Nobody wavered, nobody held their head low. We just had to keep each other's backs and keep energy, find energy in the little things and execute. We knew we could play, we knew we could win, so we just had to go out there and give it our all.”

You mentioned energy. At what point could you feel the momentum and the energy shift in you guys' favor?

“You know, the momentum and energy really accelerated and shifted in our favor after Kai's three-point play. We came out in the second half knowing that we needed more energy and in the fourth quarter that we really needed more energy, so after Kai gave us that play we were able to go off, start hitting shots, start getting stops, and that's when everything shifted for us.”

It seemed like they were trying to play pretty physical with you, especially early in the first half. Is that something that kind of fires you up and gets you going throughout the rest of the game?

“Yeah, you know, it's not a shock, teams trying to be physical with me inside. I've just got to take it for what it is and battle back, try not to get silly fouls. I guess it's a testament to how good our team is if teams have to beat us being physical.”

Kai Crutchfield

Kai, could you kind of feel the need to inject some energy into the team there at that point? We talked about the three-point play with Elissa. Is that something that you consciously tried to do, to kind of get things going?

“You know, I mean, of course we were down, so we needed something to spark our mojo. I wouldn't necessarily say it was something I needed to do like physically in a way -- I think that sounded wrong -- but I think we just needed some type of energy to spark us.”

But did you take it upon yourself to try to spark that energy?

“I really just gave -- took what the defense gave me and executed offense that was ran. We do that stuff in practice, and it just was my -- my name was called.”

You guys have had several comebacks this year. Is that something that, even in the fourth quarter, even when Georgia Tech takes a double-digit lead that you guys still feel like you guys are going to win that game, and how important is that past experience from the season going into the postseason in these tough games?

“I'd say with the past experience, I mean, Boston College, for example, we were down by a lot with a little time left, and we just stuck with the confidence that we had in each other, we had instilled in each other. With COVID and everything, I feel like that communication and that chemistry, team chemistry has really helped.

“Being down, it's really just the confidence we have in ourselves knowing we play for NC State for a reason and we're here for a reason.”

When you guys were making that comeback the fans really got into it, they got loud. Do you think that's something that helped motivate you guys at the end and do you think it maybe fazed Georgia Tech a little bit, too, having that home-court advantage?

“Yeah, it was definitely home-court advantage. Playing here, Coach said, is like our second home, so having that extra oomph, extra scream, extra yell, extra noise really helps us out, especially on the defensive end.”

You guys are down 10 with like four minutes and some change left. How do you guys remain calm and mount this comeback?

“I'd say remaining calm is honestly one of the most important things. If we hang our head then they can take over, but we all kept each other's heads, we continued to lift each other up, and I think that really helped us in the comeback.”

As a senior did you just make up your mind I'm not going out like this, I'm going to do something to make sure we win this game?

“Yeah, and KJ and I were seniors last year. We won the championship. And our goal was to go back to back this year. I was able to step up and hit some big shots in order to get us to the next step.”

You guys had to expend a lot of energy to come back there, and now you've got to turn around and play a really good Louisville team. How do you think you're going to get that energy back at this point?

“I think energy comes with us being at State. We have energy within each other, confidence within each other. Now we're just going to go pay attention to the scout, do some treatment, rehab, recovery, get some rest and do whatever we need to do to prepare ourselves mentally and physically for tomorrow.”

You may have been asked this already, but they seemed to really want to play a shortened game, slow down the tempo. Was that tough for you guys to create energy early on because of that just playing at a slower pace?

“Not necessarily. I think with us being NC State, we're able to play at any speed of the game, and for us to get transition points, set up in the half court, I think if we're executing that and executing on defense, regardless of the speed of the opponent, I feel like we're able to play however we want to play.”

You didn't miss a shot in the second half, and Elissa said that the team has been calling you Kai Clutchfield recently. How long have they been calling you Kai Clutchfield, and is that a nickname that you can live with?

“Since probably like the beginning of the season, that's when they started really calling me it. A few games, like last year, the Maryland game, that's kind of when it got stuck to me. I think that is a name that can stick. It sounds pretty good, don't you think?”

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