Wolfpack's First Makes It One of Four
By Laura Gardner
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, March 24, 1998; Page E1
DAYTON, Ohio, March 23 After a 27-year college coaching career and 552 victories, North Carolina State Coach Kay Yow is going to her first Final Four, and her Wolfpack made it happen today with a gritty defensive performance that carried the squad to a 60-52 upset over Connecticut at University of Dayton Arena in the East Region final.
Yow and senior forward Chasity Melvin, the region most valuable player, shared a long embrace amid the screams of fans and teammates just after the buzzer sounded, and the jubilance on Yow's face was evident before she composed herself and strode over to shake the hand of Huskies Coach Geno Auriemma.
Once the formalities were dispensed with, hugs were shared by all, and the players donned their East Region championship T-shirts and proceeded to cut down the nets.
"It's something I've worked for for a long time as a coach, to take a team to a Final Four," said Yow, whose club is only the sixth No. 4 seed to advance that far. "This is the first time it's happened. It still hasn't all completely sunk in.
"It's a great day for our program at N.C. State. It's a great tribute to the staff and the players."
The fourth-seeded Wolfpack (25-6) took a U-Conn. team that averages 83.8 points a game out of its rhythm and held the Huskies (34-3) to a season-low point total. The last time a Huskies team scored lower was during the 1992-93 season, when them Huskies had 51 in a loss to Miami. U-Conn. shot 34 percent after averaging better than 50 percent all season, and committed 23 turnovers. The Huskies had won their seven previous games since all-American Nykesha Sales ruptured an Achilles' tendon.
"They thoroughly dominated us inside," said Auriemma, who turned 44 today but whose birthday was far from happy. "They took us away from what we wanted to do. ... It was a very disappointing night for us."
The Wolfpack outscored the Huskies 38-26 in the lane, led by Melvin's 18 points. Melvin also had a game-high 11 rebounds. Forward LySchale Jones had 12 points, and reserve center Summer Erb had 12. U-Conn.'s front court combined for 25.
"We just knew we had to step up," said Melvin, who surpassed 2,000 career points two days after passing 1,000 career rebounds against Old Dominion, becoming only the second player in N.C. State history to accomplish the feat. "A lot of people hyped U-Conn.'s inside game, so that always sets us off. We wanted to come out and show our inside can play too."
The game turned on a defensive stand made by the Wolfpack early in the second half. The Huskies led by five at intermission, and opened a 36-26 lead with an 8-3 run capped by a three-pointer by Amy Duran with 17 minutes 9 seconds remaining in the half. But just when U-Conn. seemed to have momentum on its side, the Wolfpack bore down and held the Huskies scoreless for the next 5:34 while embarking on a 14-0 run to take a 40-36 lead.
"We had a 10-point lead, and when they started to make their run, we were a little shocked," said Duran, who finished with 11 points. "We lost our composure."
Rita Williams broke the scoring drought for U-Conn. with a three-pointer at the 11:35 mark one of only two field goals for the senior guard, who attempted 16 and the two teams battled closely for the next several minutes. Paige Sauer put the Huskies ahead for the final time with a layup off an assist from a driving Williams. But guard Tynesha Lewis, who finished with 11 points and four assists, answered by weaving through the lane for a layup, tying the game at 46 with 7:25 to go.
Melvin hit two free throws at 6:46 to put the team ahead by 48-46, and the Wolfpack never trailed again. The game got even more intense for the next several minutes, with both teams denying the other scoring chances and the only points coming at the foul line. Both teams were obviously weary, at one point committing five straight turnovers.
Sauer finally connected at 2:23, scoring with a putback, but Lewis answered by driving to score again. Leading 52-49 with 2:05 to go, the Wolfpack hit 8 of 10 free throws to secure the victory.
"They pounded the ball at us," Auriemma said. "They deserve that win. I'm happy for Kay."
Yow coached the 1988 U.S. women's team to a gold medal in Seoul, and said she shared a similar message with her team today before they took the court.
"I said, 'We have a chance to make a dream a reality,' " Yow said. " 'It's in our hands; it's up to us.' That's what I told the team in Seoul. [This] has been a dream. And now we've made it a reality."