Gartrell Leads Pack to ACC Title Game

GREENSBORO, N.C. – NC State senior Nikitta Gartrell made an emotional plea to her teammates in the halftime lockerroom of Saturday's ACC Tournament semifinal game against Boston College.

"Come on you guys, I know if I can make some shots, you can, too," Gartrell implored.

It's true, Gartrell has been in a season-long shooting slump. Against ACC competition this year, she made just 25 percent of her field goal attempts.

But that hasn't kept her from taking as many shots as necessary to help advance the Wolfpack into the 2010 ACC Championship game Sunday afternoon against Duke. Gartrell poured in a career-high 25 points against the Eagles, including a critical three-point play during a decisive run in the 63-57 victory.

Tip-off for the title game is slated for 1 p.m. at the Greensboro Coliseum. Wolfpack fans who are attending the men's regular season-finale against Boston College can watch the first half on the jumbotron at the RBC Center.

Gartrell, who has made 39 percent of her shots in the first three games of the ACC Tournament, also had the most important basket of the game, hitting a fall-away jumper with 37.4 seconds remaining that all but sealed the Wolfpack's seventh victory in its last eight games and its 20th win of the year.

Gartrell was a freshman in 2007 when the Wolfpack, inspired by the return of ailing head coach Kay Yow, advanced to the ACC Championship game, where it lost to North Carolina. But, under first-year head coach Kellie Harper, this is a new era for Wolfpack women's basketball, and Gartrell is intent on making some new memories before she leaves.

"I don't want to continue talking about what we did my freshman year," said Gartrell, who topped her previous career high in scoring by two points and matched her career high for 3-pointers in a single game with four. "I want to talk about something with these guys. We don't want to just get to the championship game. We want to cut down the nets.

"We want to have something to remember. I won't want to just dwell on losing to Carolina in the championship game three years ago."

The Wolfpack, which hasn't won an ACC title since 1991, would definitely have something to talk about if it can avenge its worse loss of the season in Sunday's championship game. The Blue Devils beat State 70-39 in their only meeting of the season, back on Feb. 11, at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The game was so bad that first-year head coach Kellie Harper refused to even review the film, something she will now do in hopes of becoming the first ACC men's or women's team to win four games in four days to claim an ACC championship. That's something the Wolfpack men twice had the opportunity to do in 1997 and 2007, but lost in the title game.

And no women's coach has ever won the ACC Tournament in her first appearance in the event.

Harper could add her name to an exclusive list of men's coaches who have won the title in their first appearance: NC State's Everett Case (1954), Duke's Vic Bubas (1960), NC State's Press Maravich (1965) and North Carolina's Bill Guthridge (1998).

She already joins Case, Maravich, Herb Sendek (1997) and Sidney Lowe (2007) as Wolfpack basketball coaches who have taken their teams to the ACC title game in their first opportunity.

With 10 minutes to play in Saturday's game against BC, the chances of joining that group looked bleak. The Pack was trailing 46-36 and Gartrell was her team's only offensive weapon. The Eagles were making the most of their significant height advantage, thanks to 24 points from center Carolyn Swords.

Making matters worse, ACC Freshman of the Year Marissa Kastanek had yet to score a point in the game. She was in early foul trouble and played only seven minutes in the first half and was not a factor in the Wolfpack offense - until she drained a 3-pointer from the corner with 8:43 remaining.

"Nikitta came in the lockerroom at halftime and she was just a ball of fire," Kastanek said. "She was like, 'You need to make some shots in the second half.' She said we needed to pull together, that we were only down by six points [29-23].

"So we all kind of pulled together right then, and I think that was what got me going."

Kastanek's shot set off the 18-2 scoring run that turned the double-digit deficit into a 54-48 lead, thanks in great part to six Boston College turnovers against the Wolfpack's pressure defense.

The Eagles came back to tie the game on a short jumper by Swords with 1:47 remaining, but Gartrell seized the lead with a pair of free throws.

In a game in which the teams combined to make their first 24 free throws, the outcome wasn't really decided until BC's Brittany Johnson missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 1:09 to play. Gartrell ran off much of the shot clock, then drained her fade-away with 37 seconds remaining to give the Wolfpack an insurmountable four-point lead.

"Boston College is playing great right now and it makes this win even more special to beat a team that good," Harper said. "And, again, you know when you walk in the locker room and see these girls rewarded for believing in our system, believing in our philosophy, working every day to improve, it just puts a smile on your face."

Sophomore Bonae Holston added 15 points for the Wolfpack, to go with Gartrell's 25 points and nine rebounds. Kastanek scored nine points in the game's final nine minutes.

Boston College's only other double-digit scorer, after Swords, was point guard Jaclyn Thoman, who had 16.

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