Story Poster
Wes Moore
Kai Crutchfield & Kayla Jones
NC State Women's Basketball

WATCH: Wolfpack Women Set To Open NCAA Tournament Versus Lancers

March 18, 2022
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No. 1 seed NC State head coach Wes Moore, guard Kai Crutchfield, and forward Kayla Jones met with the media Friday afternoon ahead of the Wolfpack's opening round matchup versus Longwood on Saturday.

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


Kai Crutchfield & Kayla Jones
 

This is to both of you but specifically to Kayla. You have been waiting a full year for this. You weren't able to take part in most of last year's tournament. What does it mean to finally get here? And you too, Kai.

KJ: The biggest thing is just enjoy the moment. Last year I was looking forward and looking ahead of things I can't control. Right now I try to enjoy the moment with my teammates and have fun and win.

KC: I would say the say same. Not only speaking for myself. We're both fifth year seniors, so it's the last run for real this time. Yeah, just really enjoy the moment.

This kind of run you have been on the last three years, this is the first year that you've gone as host in 2020. Last year you were in Texas. What are you looking forward to this weekend playing in front of Reynolds?

KC: Wolfpack nation is amazing. Just having them standing behind us and giving us that extra umph when the game gets hot. It means a lot. We know they are always here for us. And on top of that it's a blessing to play at Reynolds Stadium.

KJ: For sure. We love wolf pack nation. I wanted to tweet out and say can you please follow us everywhere we go. Their support and energy is crazy. It pushes us for sure.

For those same reasons you mentioned, trying to enjoy the moment, trying to have fun with it, because you came out fifth year, because you have been the number one seed again, how do you keep the pressure off of being a number one seed and trying to make it all the way?

KJ: Like I said, just don't look too far ahead. That's the biggest thing. I feel like Coach Moore has been giving us great pep talks before practice and after the selection show. We're focussing on our bracket only. We're not looking ahead. We know what we can do and we have prepared for this moment.

KC: Adding on to that, I would say each game -- there's pressure for each game regardless of who you play. And I feel like you have to take on each game with that same mentality. This is a championship game. And in this case it's survive and advance. Going on with what KJ said, just making sure we play every game like it's our toughest and our last.

What element does Diamond being in the mix this year improve your chances and your team going into this year?

KC: Diamond is a great player. I would say she gives us that extra spark. And along with other players, too. But her specifically, she's able to make plays on offense and defense and create for her teammates.

KJ: Basically the same thing. She is that spark and I feel like not only her but even Jada Boyd. That's the biggest thing. We have to be selfless. We want to win. And that's why we love we had those two or whoever else even Camille Hobby coming off the bench and helping us win.

Tell me how you really are feeling being the number one seed and all these possibilities. Just talk about that for a second.

KJ: Well honestly I feel great. You know, I call my mama this morning and I said I feel good. I'm excited to play. And I feel like the sky is the limit. Been praying on it. I know God has something big in store for us. That's why I'm trying to live in the moment, enjoy it, and not look too far ahead. I feel excited. I'm so excited to play. We have been practicing 24/7.

KC: She said all of it. But yeah, I feel good. It's the last dance for both of us. And like you said, me and KJ have been through a lot, from being each other's opponent and her being seven inches taller than me. I'm caught a little. Growing with her and being able to be in this position with her even the team like just seeing how we've grown as a team and the history that we've made the legacy that we continue to, you know, perform at that level, So I'm really excited.

You were there to see the Longwood game last night. Akila Smith is a player. I was really impressed with her. Something your fans were tweeting at me, how are they going to guard her, what's the plan? You don't have to give anything away. What did you see from Longwood, specifically her, and how are you guys taking that into preparation?

KC: Yeah. I would say this, the coaches have always done a great job breaking down the scout, watching a whole bunch of film. So I am willing to -- whatever situation they put me in in order to come out successful against Longwood, I'm willing to put myself in that situation and do the best I can for the team. So with that, again, she's a great player and I'm just willing to sacrifice whatever I have in order to be selfless to have us come out with the win.

KJ: I think Longwood, that was a great game. Especially towards the end it became a great game. I love their energy. They play a high tempo. And they look for Smith. I feel like coach is going to prepare us very well and that's all we can do is play hard.

How did it feel to sit in Reynolds as a fan and watch a game last night as opposed to playing in a game?

KJ: I kind of was sitting there, I wonder if this is how people look at us. That thought really did go through my head. This was cool. It was good to see the environment. I can't wait for Wolfpack nation to come in.

KC: She hit it on the head.

Being the only two players on the team that have been in the NCAA tournament several times before, how do you lean on that experience and what do you share with your teammates who are doing it for the first time about March Madness?

KC: I would say -- I guess our motto is enjoy the moment. It would be selfish of us not to pass on that knowledge and that experience on to the freshman or upcoming people that are playing. So just being able to be a person they can lean on if they have questions. Or even when I'm done with college I always have that door open for them.

KJ: Yeah. I would say even when it comes to basketball, I feel like the tournament is going to be highs and lows. How do you meet the hard times? Letting them know, it's okay. They might go on a run, but we could go on another run. Staying in that moment, continuing to put the pressure on them also.

KC: Keep pushing through adversity.

Obviously since you're talking about it's your last dance, and it looks a little different than the previous dances. It's hard to tell what month it is. But behind you there's a few reminders. Some changes to equality. What does that mean for you and do you think about the legacy you're leaving for women's basketball as a whole.

KJ: Can you please repeat your question?

I just wanted to ask about the changes from last year to this year, from the bubble and also getting to use the March Madness logo and the fact that your dance is part of this change year, year of change for women's basketball.

KJ: I can say I'm happy to not be in the bubble. That sucked. Just enjoy the moment. Happy to be at March Madness. Not every team is able to be here. So we're just thankful.

Kayla Jones, you were last year you didn't get to play because of injuries or what have you. How are you feeling going into this tournament?

KJ: Excited. I'm excited. Yes, I feel great. I feel like our trainers have done a great job with me. Not even just me even my other teammates, but I feel healthy and I feel like Coach Moore has done a good job managing me in practice and in games. I've given Jada Boyd chances to play too and I feel like it's always working out for my good. At first I was like why can't I play? You know, but then it's like it's something bigger ahead. So I mean, it's worth it.

Kai, how have you seen Kayla grow as a vocal leader since your freshman year, and the same question for Kayla?

KC: I would say just seeing her grow as a woman. It's hot.

KJ: You're a baby.

KC: I'm a baby. Yeah, I would say seeing her grow as a woman. She means everything to me. She has a big head.

KJ: She crying. She's so sweet.

KC: I see your eyes watering too.

KJ: I'm super proud of Kai. I feel like last year was the moment I said "Kai is so mature." In the ACC tournament when before she didn't get nothing. And then she really bought into being our defensive player, they bought into her role. That's all about our team. We have been selfless and we are finding ourselves as a team. That's why we're successful. We know our role and we know do it to make sure we win. I'm proud of her. My voice crackling.

Kayla, we talked about this at the ACC tournament. Elissa Cunane in her last four. I called the Virginia Tech game and I felt like there was just -- I don't know, laser focus from her. Maybe it wasn't winning player of the year or whatever it is. The last four games it has been a beast mode situation. What have you seen over the last couple of weeks with Elissa?

KJ: I feel like she knows this is it, too. We know this is our last run. This is our last run and she's giving her all. She always does. You can tell the aggressiveness is ridiculous. It took us over the edge. And I told her I want to see that every game. We talk to each other on the court. "Hey, you need to do this." We're holding each other accountable. That's what's going to take us far.

KC: We call her big smile, but when she turns on that aggressive mode I'm like, yeah, there she is.

KJ: She start talking her talk.

KC: There she is.

Kayla, I think you talked about this when you won the ACC regular season title. How you set these big goals for yourself at the beginning of this season. You guys are kind of where you expected to be. You won the ACC tournament, the regular season and you are a number one seed. What's it like to realize all that? I know you have goals ahead. So far you have checked every box.

KJ: I'm thankful for what we have done. I thank God for that. We wouldn't have done it without Him. I feel like we're not done. We're not done. We have to continue to work hard. No team is going to take us lightly. And I told them on ESPN, we have to throw the first punch every game. In this time you can't come from behind. It's hard. It's better just to go ahead and throw the first punch and be aggressive early.

Wes Moore
 

Opening Statement

Well, obviously we're excited. This is what you prepare and work for all year long, from way back in the summer to now. And so I think with us having so many veteran players, they have kind of been biding their time until we could get this started. So it's great to be at this point. I'm proud of what this team has accomplished all during the season. To have the number two net in the country, we played a great nonconference schedule, and then to navigate through the very tough ACC, winning the regular season and the tournament. Just a great accomplishment. And couldn't be prouder of them. Obviously we had an opportunity to see Longwood last night. And they have great players. Wee knew that from watching film on them. Akila Smith put up 32 points 13 boards, eight of them offensive. That right there is a match up challenge for us. She's so athletic. And then also Kyla McMakin scored 18 points, hit four out of five three's and has good size and length. So you start there and they have a lot of people around them that can play as well. So we know we're going to be challenged and we have been off for almost two weeks, and so hopefully we can knock the rust off pretty quickly and get going. I mean, off from games not completely off.

How is Elissa's ankle and how did you handle her recovery in that?

We have always given them a good little break. That's the advantage women's baseball has. For most of us -- I know there are a few conference tournaments maybe the weekend prior, but most of us it's two weeks before the NCAA. So it's really good to get some people healed up a little bit and recover. We took off three days right after the championship game, came back, practiced a couple of days, and I gave them the weekend off as well. So she really didn't do a whole lot until Monday. I mean, she was doing things with our trainer, recovery, and things like that. But really didn't get on the court a lot until Monday. And I think she's moving pretty well. And I think she will be good to go.

Your team throughout the year is one of the loosest bunches we have been around. Kayla and Kai are loose right now. Have you seen that continue into March Madness or has the intensity on their faces in practice kind of picked up a little bit?

I think you want to have the same demeanor and same outlook you have had all year. Again, you go 20-1 against ACC opponents, you don't want to start switching things up now. So I think they are at a good place and excited about it. Like I said, we gave them some time off. And I was going to take Wednesday off anyway, but they wanted to know if they could get practice in the morning or something so they can get their hair done and get all prepped up and ready. When I told them we were taking Wednesday off, they gave me a big hug and stuff. Don't tell them any different. So we feel like we're at a good place. It's got to be fun. This time of year, it's been a grind, you have been going a long time, so you got to make it where they are enjoying it and it's great to be at home. I think that helps. Gives you a little momentum going and all that. But we know we have to play well all weekend long. But hopefully we keep doing what we have been doing.

You guys have done a lot of growing this year. It seems like the biggest growth has been on the defensive side. Can you talk about what you have seen as far as growth on defense?

I think we have improved. I think we still have room to improve. This time of year people are -- the people know you. By this time of the year you can get a pretty good scout on people and have an idea of who does what well. You are playing against great teams at this time of year. Sometimes it is a struggle to score offensively. And that's why playing defense and rebounding are so critical, because the scores may be a little lower. And you got to make sure that you're not putting so much pressure on your offense. We got to score every time. So I do think this time of year, you have to have a lot of energy, you have to have a lot of urgency, buy into the scout and go out and execute it. But I think we have gotten better and hopefully we'll continue to get better.

You have all five starters back, but you have added Diamond and some other pieces. Camille has improved. How much more equipped is this team to make this run considering all the things that could possibly happen than last year's team?

I have tried to tell them the last few weeks, we got three things going for us that makes us special. First of all you have to have talent. We got some nice talent. I think experience is big. And we've got that covered with three players that are in their fifth year and then Elissa, Jakia, Jada, Camille, they have been here. So I think that experience is big. And then depth. And when you can bring Diamond Johnson, Jada Boyd, Camille Hobby, you bring those people in, you don't -- hopefully it's not even status quo. Hopefully it ratchets things up another level. And last year well documented Kayla Jones, we weren't really prepared to lose her like we did. And it would have been hard no matter who we had, because KJ is such a special player. But we really, you know, we had Jada Boyd and then we had a bunch of freshman that weren't ready for that. So this year, if we get in foul trouble or something like that I think -- or somebody is having an off day, I think we are better equipped to handle that and hopefully be able to survive it.

With all the noise around the tournament and where you are. How do you keep them focussed on the next game and not think about the next game or what's going to happen somewhere else and keep them focused?

Sometimes the coach needs to be reminded of that, too. I got an idea from a good friend who had been very successful. So we had -- I had my neighbour Ron, I had him make -- he's really good woodwork. The players don't know this yet. Don't say anything for another hour or two. I had him make a real beautiful step. And "NC State verse". And we can change the name hopefully -- hopefully -- but we're going to make them step on that step, they go in the locker room, they get on the bus, whatever, to remind them one step at a time. And that's all we can worry about. Like I said, I tried to convince them, don't look at the bracket. There's 68 teams in that bracket. All we have to do is beat four of them to get to the Final Four. Don't worry about 68 teams, worry about the next game and one step and maybe a little cheesy but just a little reminder every time they enter a room or get on the bus or whatever. One step at a time.

You guys have had a number of WNBA scouts at your games this year. Let's say in a couple of weeks one of them calls you and says, "tell me about Kayla Jones". What are you selling them on?

Yeah, I just think -- I've said it for the last few years. Last couple of years for sure. She's kind of a glue player. She makes everybody around her better. She brings energy. She's been injured and the patella tendon tear. We're a year out. Usually something like that takes a year. I think she continues to get better. She fills up a stat sheet. She will give you a double-double with scoring, rebounding. We have games where she has six assists, zero turnovers, she makes good decisions. She's a hybrid player. She can guard somebody on the perimeter, she can go inside and guard someone. I think that's the biggest thing. She brings a lot to the table and a lot of things if you don't watch film or whatever, you might not notice. But like I said, I've called her our glue a lot of times. That's what she does for your team.

We talked a good bit before the Virginia Tech game talking about Elissa. Since the game she has been in a beast mode from that game and then the ACC tournament. Did you guys have any discussions? I feel like she has been more aggressive from the jump. What have you seen from her in the last four?

Yeah, I think Elissa has been great. She just loves to compete. And she does so much for us. And I don't know, again, I think they all realize, hey, here we go. I think that's good. But yeah, Elissa probably may be been a little more aggressive. Try to remind her, you don't have to be a point guard. If you are doubled kick it out, otherwise you are scoring. So I just think she's really one on one she's really hard to stop. And so we got to play through her. We have a lot of players around her that is great. When we get her touches it opens things up for everybody else.

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WATCH: Wolfpack Women Set To Open NCAA Tournament Versus Lancers

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