RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — N.C. State coach Wes Moore keeps thinking about last March, when starter Kayla Jones’ knee injury kept her out of the Wolfpack’s Sweet 16 defeat. It’s impacted the way he substitutes, and he’s trying to get his reserves more playing time this season.
“In the NCAA Tournament, I thought it was a real blow to us,” Moore said. “So, this year, even though we’ve played a really, really good schedule, we’ve had opportunities to play some of the young players. Hopefully it’s going to pay off down the stretch.”
Second-ranked 2 N.C. State got 52 points from its bench Sunday and won its 10th straight game, beating Saint Mary’s 101-73.
Elissa Cunane led the Wolfpack (10-1) with 15 points and nine rebounds. The senior center, who scored her 1,500th career point, had nine points during an early 18-0 run that put the Wolfpack in control.
“It’s pretty cool,” Cunane said of the milestone. “I just give it all to my teammates, because they’re the ones that have to give me the ball. I appreciate them doing what they do for me.”
Jones added 13 points, while Jakia Brown-Turner had 11 points and six rebounds for N.C. State. Off the bench, freshman Aziaha James tallied 11 points, five rebounds and two steals.
Jade Kirisome led the Gaels (5-4) with 17 points. Ali Bamberger had 13 points and nine rebounds.
Saint Mary’s tied it at 7 on a 3-pointer from Makena Mastora in the first quarter. The Wolfpack then broke away with their big run.
N.C. State grew its lead to as much as 30 points, and Saint Mary’s was unable to trim the deficit to single digits over the final three quarters.
Saint Mary’s: The Gaels outscored N.C. State 22-21 in the third quarter, but the early deficit they dug themselves into proved too deep. Saint Mary’s shot just 53.8% on free throws and turned the ball over 16 times.
“You can’t give the ball to the No. 2 team in the nation that shoots the ball that effectively. They’re just so efficient on offense,” Gaels coach Paul Thomas said. “We just did not get enough stops to counter that. We just couldn’t find a rhythm defensively. … Our kids know we did not play the way we are capable of playing.”
N.C. State: In these blowout victories over mid-majors, Moore has been able to get valuable minutes for his non-starters. Six players off the bench played double-digit minutes for the Wolfpack, including freshman guard Jessica Timmons, who scored a season-high nine points. The experience that N.C. State’s reserves are getting now could be valuable in the postseason.
“Hopefully, that’s getting them prepared for ACC play as well,” Moore said. “It’s tough because of the extra-year super seniors – it affected Aziaha’s and Jessica Timmons’ roles as freshmen. But they’ve handled it well. They’re going to make an impact and a difference right now, but they’re also the future.”
With No. 3 UConn losing to Georgia Tech, and No. 4 Stanford not posting any impressive wins this past week, N.C. State should hold on to its No. 2 spot, just behind unbeaten South Carolina.
Saint Mary’s: The Gaels travel to Conway, South Carolina, to face undefeated Coastal Carolina on Wednesday.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack host their fourth ranked opponent this season, playing No. 21 Georgia on Thursday.
The win was Moore’s 200th as N.C. State’s head coach. … It was the sixth time this season that N.C. State has scored more than 80 points. The Wolfpack are second nationally in field goals made this season.
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