Story Poster
Wes Moore
Raina Perez
Elissa Cunane
NC State Women's Basketball

LOCKER ROOM REPORT: Wolfpack Downs Louisville, Repeats As ACC Champs

March 7, 2021

No. 2-seed NC State head coach Wes Moore, graduate student guard Raina Perez, and junior center Elissa Cunane met with the media via Zoom following the Wolfpack's 58-56 win over No. 1-seed Louisville Sunday afternoon.

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

Wes Moore

Opening statement

“This team is just so resilient and they just find a way to win. Obviously dug an eight-point deficit there in the fourth period, and they didn't blink an eye, just kept battling.

“Again, Elissa was unbelievable all weekend. Kai Crutchfield did a great job defensively with her match-ups. And then Raina Perez, what do you say? It was funny because she had about that same look a few minutes earlier and she tried to get it to Elissa, which is a good plan, but I just told her, Hey, take the shot, and she took it when it counted most. Just so thankful for what she's brought to our team, as well.

“But it was everybody contributed and made big plays when we needed them. Louisville is so, so talented and so well-coached. They did a great job defensively, low-scoring game, but we found a way to get it done. Players made plays.

“Great day for NC State.”

You've been pretty open about the idea of doing special things, like talking ambitiously back to last year, and to win a second ACC Tournament title is something the program has never done. What is the significance of that particular element, another special thing, especially in light of the last year and what it's been like?

“Yeah, you know, there's a time there when I thought, we may never get to put the hat and the tee shirt on and have the balloons rain down on you. This league is very, very good. Great players, first of all, great coaches, and it's just an unbelievable experience, like I said.

“I didn't know if it would ever happen, and now it's happened back to back. Just again, it's all about the players. I learned that a long time ago. They just -- when it counted, they made some plays.

“It's really great for our program, obviously, trying to break through in there. I had somebody tell me a few years ago when I first got here, There's a pecking order in women's basketball, and you'll never change that. Well, you're right, I didn't, but we've got some players that are trying to change that.”

You spoke about this a little bit in your opening statement that just this team found a way to get it down in the fourth quarter. But through this year you guys have had big fourth quarters a few times that have led you to wins. I'm curious, is that an attitude thing? Is that a leadership/veteran thing? Is it all of the above, something else?

“Yeah, I don't know. If I knew, I'd sure as heck battle it. I can tell you that. But they've been that way all year. We played a very good Boston College team on the road in our first ACC game, were down 16 with about six and a half minutes left, six minutes left. They found a way to win.

“Even here at the tournament we dug a hole yesterday against a very good Georgia Tech team, and I think we were down 10 in the fourth quarter. You know, they just step up and find a way to get it done.

“It helps when you've got Elissa Cunane in there to go to and lean on, but all weekend we've had different players step up and make big plays.

“Yeah, I think it's more about just the heart of a champion if you want to call it that. They just found a way to make plays, and as Jim Valvano would say, Never give up. They just keep coming.”

You just talked about her a little bit, Elissa Cunane. She was getting so much pressure on her and turning the ball over a little bit early in the game, but for her to stay calm and hit those free throws and get that defensive board at the end to give you guys ultimately the game-winning shot, wins the tournament MVP, we've talked about her all season, but what does she mean to this program and out there today?

“Yeah, you know, she always jokes about when I was recruiting her, the way I would say it to her is, you know, We run this four-out, one-in system, and you would be really good in that system. She gives me a hard time about my southern twang.

“She really is, she's the centerpiece. Without her we'd be running that doughnut offense with nothing in the middle. I say that, now Camille Hobby has been pretty danged good, too, but Elissa is a special player.

“Again, we ride her pretty hard, and she just finds a way to get it done. And you're right, they gave a lot of attention to her, and she just -- even though she turned it over a couple of times against the double-team and the pressure, she doesn't hang her head or she doesn't doubt herself. The girl has got a lot of confidence.

“I think because of that, our team has a lot of confidence.”

It was about a year ago this upcoming week where everything hit the fan, so I was wondering from your perspective how hard was it to get to this point, and does it mean a little more to win this championship considering everything that you've had to go through to get here?

“Yeah, I don't know, man. Again, last year it was something that hadn't been done in 30 years, so I don't know. Last year was pretty special. They're all special.

“Again, just because of this league being so great and so many players and coaches that are unbelievable, to be the last one standing is really special.

“I think doing it last year was special, and then to have the season end, to have kind of the rug ripped out from under you, I think we'd have been a No. 2 seed last year in the tournament. We were excited about that opportunity.

“I guess the only silver lining was we had a great group of seniors that ended their careers with a win, and there's not many people that get to do that. From that standpoint, it was special, but I'm excited to hopefully have a chance to keep playing this year.

“You know, this team has got to work. You could see we struggled in about every one of these games. We can't take anything for granted. We still have some things that we hopefully can clean up a little bit and get better, but it's exciting to be at this point and to feel like this year we're going to get to play.

“We owe a lot to a lot of people, obviously the ACC office for making this work. We had a three-week shutdown, which really was tough, but our kids handled it and came back strong. But the ACC office had to do a lot of juggling all year, so give them a lot of credit.

“And then just being over here, the Greensboro Sports Committee, they do such an awesome job putting this tournament on, especially this year with all the COVID testing that has to be done and trying to keep people separated, contact tracing, all that. It's great. We appreciate everybody making it work.”

Raina obviously came to NC State to have these games and have these moments. She told us that she knows that she belongs and she's kind of been proving that. How cool is that for her to have that moment and that shot in this game?

“Yeah, unbelievable. Like I said, I mean, again, we've got a lot of really good players, but I don't know where we'd be without Raina. Because we lost last year Ace Konig first of all, who was MVP at this tournament a year ago. Then we lost Kaila Ealey, somebody who had been in our program for five or six years because of injuries; had great experience.

“To lose both of them the same year to graduation, and Kai Crutchfield can play some point, but we love her more at the 2. We felt like we needed some experience. We had some freshmen, young players, but we felt like we needed somebody with experience that you could just drop into this lineup and not miss a beat. I think that's what's happened.

“For her to come in and first of all be accepted -- you've got to give our players credit, too, for having open arms and being excited, but a lot of that has to do with Raina, not only as a player, again, she works, she comes in and prepares like a pro, but she also is just an unbelievable person off the court, great personality, fun to be around, and so that's why it worked.

“It doesn't always work that way, but Raina made it work on the court and off, and our team is whole lot better because of it.”

You mentioned the pecking order. Now that you've won the ACC again, you beat Louisville again, is this enough to get you on the 1 line?

“You know, I'm not really concerned about it. I mean, again, I realize it's a 1-16 versus a 2-15, and then on down the line. To me at the end of the day if you do -- if you're able somehow some way to get through your bracket and get to that point, it's just a matter of you're going to wear dark uniforms and we're going to wear white, and we've been pretty good in black uniforms this year.

“So it's nothing we can control. On one hand you got an argument. You knocked off two No. 1s on their home court. On the other hand, we lot a couple of games, you know, stuff we can control.

“I'm not worried about it. And like I said, I don't mind flying under the radar. At NC State it seems like we kind of do that, so I'm fine with it.”

How do you handle this next week or so, because it's not like you're going to be home for the first two rounds because everyone is going to Texas. How do you deal with the next 10 days or so before you start playing again?

“Yeah, we're going to do what we've always done, and we're going to take three days off right now. I think we all need it. I was kind of second-guessing myself with us getting the double bye. I wondered if maybe I should have given them two days off this week to start it when we finished last Sunday. Could have gave them Monday and Tuesday off and still had a couple of days to prepare. You don't even know who you're playing at that point.

“But this week we're going to take three days off. They need it. They need a rest and give them a break, and then we'll come back and practice two days, take a day off, practice two days, take a day off. We'll have at least four practices in there where we can focus on us, which will be great. Usually you're preparing for the next game, the next opponent, and now this time we're going to have four days that we can look at ourselves, look at film from this weekend and see what we need to clean up and do better, so I'm excited about that. I think we need that.”

You've mentioned that you guys have come back from 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter yesterday, eight-point deficit today and many comebacks this season. Why do you think this team seems to play its best when there's a hole to climb out of?

“Yeah, I don't know, but I wish they'd quit doing it. You got to remember, I'm not a spring chick, okay, and it's probably not good for my heart over there. I wish they would kind of cut that out.

“Maybe in the fourth quarter they say, Heck with that coach over there and let's just play ball. Who knows? Maybe they just ignore me in the fourth period and that's why we're so good. Like I said, I think they're just winners. I think they've got heart.

“Again, several of those players -- yesterday Kai Crutchfield stepped up unbelievably in the fourth period, and that's a senior leader for you. Kayla Jones has done that several times, another senior. Raina Perez, graduate student, and then Elissa Cunane. She's a junior, but that girl has got a lot of confidence, and she'll keep coming at you. You may double her, you may force her into a turnover, but you'd better keep playing because she's going to bring it back. Again, she made some big plays down the stretch today, especially getting to the foul line and knocking down free throws.

“Unbelievable, all of them. They just find a way to get it done.”

Raina Perez

Raina, can you please take us through that last sequence? Seemed like you wanted to pass it. Can you take us through that sequence and what did it mean for you to hit the game winner like that?

“Yeah, I was honestly looking for the pass. I hadn't made a shot all second half, so I think I was kind of more in my head. But then they doubled on 'Liss, and I was wide open. I had to take it, and what do you know, it went in.”

I know you've talked a couple times this season I think after the South Carolina game and the regular season game against Louisville that moments like this is why you came to NC State. Was that sort of another feeling of that today? How accomplished do you feel wearing that hat after everything you've been through the past year with transferring?

“I'm just so thrilled to be here. I feel like I belong here, and I think I proved the point. I'm just so excited and grateful to be here, honestly.”

Third game in three days. You've played a lot of minutes. You often hear people talk about fatigue in these tournaments. When you get in those final minutes or final seconds, did you feel fatigued or are you really kind of riding on adrenaline?

“I think at the beginning of the game you feel fatigued but then towards the end of the game it's all adrenaline. You don't feel anything. All you care about is winning the game.”

Earlier you said you had missed a few shots. I think we counted you missed six straight since the beginning of the second quarter, so you hadn't made a shot since midway through the first half. I know there's a lot of things going through your head in a moment, but did you have that pop into your head that you didn't have the shot going when you took the last one or do you forget about it?

“I just forgot about it. I had my teammates keep telling me to, Just shoot it, just shoot; it it'll fall.

“So yeah, that wasn't running through my mind at all.”

What does it mean for you, everything that 2020 and COVID brought, such a weird season and the cancellations and the postponements and just to get to this point, what does that mean for you?

“It just means a lot. You can never take a game for granted and I'm just so happy and grateful to be here, and all the athletic training staff just got us here. Yeah, I'm just so grateful to be here.”

Coming into the season you had to replace a great point guard in Ais Konig. Did you feel any pressure at all this season, and how have you been able to adjust to stepping up and running the team in your first year?

“No, I didn't feel any pressure. I just played my game and just tried to learn the offense. Yeah, not much pressure at all. I just played my own game, and I'm just -- yeah, that's it.”

You guys trailed by eight today in the fourth quarter. You trailed by 10 in the fourth quarter yesterday and have obviously had several comebacks this season. What is it about playing from behind that seems to make you guys kick it into another gear?

“I think it's just keeping our heads and keeping our focus. We don't pay much -- obviously we know the score but we try not to pay much attention to it. We just try to focus on ourselves and do what we can.”

How important was it for you to lock in on the defensive end knowing that your shots weren't all going in?

“It was super important just to try to show that I'm not just an offensive player, I can play defense, as well. I know in this league you have to be able to play defense, so it was just super important.

“Louisville has great scorers, and I think that was the key tonight is just rebounding and playing really good defense.”

Elissa Cunane

Elissa, they were being very physical with you, especially in the third quarter, and it looked like you got a little bit frustrated. What changed for you in the fourth quarter? Was it just a matter of saying this is it, I've got to be a little stronger and let's go win this thing?

“Yeah, definitely a little energy kicked in. They were trying to be physical with me so I had to be physical back, and when teams are fouling a lot just got to be smarter on my end to not get any silly fours and just power it up.”

What does it mean to have Raina on this team who didn't know what it was like to win one of these things?

“It's huge. Everybody knows that. She came to NC State to win an ACC championship, so all throughout this year she's given us everything she's got and more. She's just stepped into this role and she's done amazing, and you can see that today. She wanted to come here to win an ACC championships, so that's what she did.”

Can you just discuss the feeling of winning back to back ACC championships?

“It's amazing to win back to back. It's tough in this league. Winning once was hard. Winning twice was harder. Especially through this season with COVID and everything, like it's just amazing to be able to be on top again.

“Last March it's like when everything went crazy, so to have basketball consistent, have ACC championship consistent is huge. It's a huge thing for us.”

I know that Ace Konig is somebody who meant a lot to all of you guys and to this program. What does it mean to you to follow in her footsteps as ACC Tournament MVP?

“Yeah, Ace is one of my best friends, so it's huge. She's winning championships in Switzerland. To follow in her footsteps and just like the legacy she created, the way she left this team, it's huge. I can only thank my teammates and coaches. I wouldn't be here would you say them.”

Obviously you probably admit your team maybe didn't play its best offense three games but you were able to grind it out. What does that say about this team going into the tournament?

“Yeah, we definitely didn't shoot it well all tournament long, so being able to win the tournament, and especially against a top-5 team not playing at our peak, it talks a lot about our defense and how well we did getting stops on defense.

“But the best is yet to come. I don't feel like we've played our best game yet, so hopefully comes out in the NCAA Tournament.”

You mentioned earlier about how opponents have been trying to get physical with you. I was looking at the numbers and you got to the line 24 times in this tournament. You made 20 of them, which is pretty good. Have you at some point just sort of embraced the contact and sort of when you go into the hole looking for the contact sometimes and if you don't make it, Hey, I'm going to go to the free-throw line anyway?

“Yeah, a hundred percent. I know teams just can't guard me so they've got to foul me. That's the end of it. I have some height against some people that I'm playing against, and a lot of times other teams have a couple subs in the post so they're going to just use all their fouls they can to stop us, but it hurts them when we have our outside and inside game.”

How important was it to get those nine rebounds and weather the storm against Louisville?

“It was huge, especially being there to grab the rebounds. Defense is what we focused in on all tournament, so to be able to get stops and push it in transition, that's been our go-to this season. So to be able to get rebounds and get out and push it has been our key to our game.”

Back to back champions for you guys. Obviously when people look at it it's like, Oh, NC State won back to back championships, but it's a lot harder than that. What did it take for you guys this season to get back to this point and how much of an emphasis was it because you were on that high last year and never got to finish your business in the NCAA Tournament?

“Yeah, you know, coming off last year's win, we knew it took literally everything in us, so after last season ended we knew we still had more fight in us. Coming back to Greensboro, stepping on this court, I told the team before the game, This is our court now. We have to defend this court.

“So coming back and being able to win it, it's huge. Throughout this season we've had so much adversity, just like everyone else in the league, everyone else in the country playing basketball and living right now. It's just been so tough with COVID.

“For our team to stick together to pull it out, and honestly shout out to the ACC for our season being here and for there being a tournament. We had fans in the stadium. I'm just really grateful for this moment, and winning makes it even better.”

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