Wolfpack Women Face UCLA in NCAA 1st Round

RALEIGH, N.C. – A pair of former Tennessee guards will square off against each other on the sidelines Sunday night when ninth-seeded NC State faces eight-seeded UCLA in Minneapolis in the first round of the NCAA Women's Championship.

Kellie Harper, in her first year as the head coach of the Wolfpack, will match her Volunteer knowledge against Nikki Caldwell, who is in her second season with the Bruins. The both played in the backcourt for legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt.

Caldwell, who played from 1991-94 at Tennessee, was a graduate assistant when Harper arrived as freshman in 1996.

"I never played with her, but we know each other very well," Harper said after the pairing was announced. "That makes the game even more interesting."

The Wolfpack (20-13) earned its bid after advancing to the ACC Championship game last week in Greensboro, beating Clemson, Virginia and Boston College, before falling in the finals to Duke. It has won seven of its last nine games heading into the tournament.

The Wolfpack players, staff and their families joined more than 100 fans Monday night at the Backyard Bistro adjacent to Carter-Finley to watch the NCAA Selection Show. The dining room erupted in cheers when NC State flashed across the screen, announcing the team's first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2007.

It is the Wolfpack's 21st appearance in the NCAA. For Harper, who was the head coach at Western Carolina for five years prior to NC State, this will be her third tournament appearance.

"I wanted so badly for this team to go to the NCAA Tournament," Harper said."That's something we talked about the first time we met in the lockerroom. It's something I really wanted for this team."

Harper gave her team two days off, practiced three days and then two more days off. By the time the team plays again, the players will have had two full weeks to recuperate from their four games in four days in Greensboro.

"We have been able to get ourselves rested, both mentally and physically over the last week," Harper said. "The players have been really focused in what they have been doing and what we are asking them to do."

The Bruins (24-8) won 10 straight games before losing to Stanford 70-46 Sunday afternoon in the Pac-10 Championship game.

Harper said she happened to watch part of that game, thinking her team might face Stanford somewhere along the way. Now, she and her staff will watch it again and prepare a full scouting report on the Bruins.

"We know they are athletic and we know they can score a lot of points," Harper said. "We will learn more about them over the next week."

The Wolfpack players waited for more than a week to find out their fate in the tournament pairings. Now, they have to be motivated to make a successful showing in the event.

"We can't be satisfied just to be in the tournament," said freshman Marissa Kastanek, who was the 2010 ACC Freshman of the Year. "We are happy to be in yes, but now our goal is to be successful and keep winning. The coaches will have us focused and prepared. They do a great job with their scouting reports.

"That has to be our focus now."

As for Harper, she knows her team, which was picked to finish ninth in the ACC in a preseason poll, is capable of playing well against any opponent.

"All year long, people have questioned the size of this team, the depth of this team and the athleticism of this team," Harper said. "But one thing no one could ever question is their heart. We know they can be successful."

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