ACC notebook: Kara Lawson, Wes Moore differ on playing amid COVID-19

Lawson: "I don’t think we should be playing right now"

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Two head coaches of ACC women’s basketball teams in North Carolina’s Triangle expressed differing opinions Wednesday night. The topic was not x’s and o’s, or non-conference schedules or the rules of the game, but something much more serious.

Following her team’s 73-49 home loss to No. 2 Louisville, Duke head coach Kara Lawson was asked by a reporter what her “comfort level” was of playing right now, as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to trend upward. Her response was short but clear.

“I don’t think we should be playing right now. That’s my opinion on it,” Lawson said, without elaborating.

Lawson’s statement came just a day after Duke men’s head coach Mike Krzyzewski openly questioned why college basketball was being played in the midst of the pandemic, saying: “I would just like for the safety, the mental and physical health of players and staff to assess where we're at… I know the NCAA is worried about the endgame. They're not as worried about the game we're playing right now.”

It’s worth noting that, back in March, Duke was the first ACC school to suspend all athletic competitions, taking action ahead of the conference and the NCAA. And Duke President Vincent Price was key in the ACC’s decision to cancel its men’s basketball tournament.

Just over in Raleigh, No. 4 N.C. State’s final non-conference game of the season – a 76-47 win over Elon – was wrapping up as Lawson’s press conference ended. Wolfpack head coach Wes Moore was asked by The Next during his post-game Zoom if the team felt safe playing as COVID-19 cases rise in North Carolina.

He offered a much different and longer response than Lawson did.

“I liked what (Clemson quarterback) Trevor Lawrence said earlier in the year — and of course, Trevor ended up getting the COVID. He said this is a safe place to be because we’re tested three times a week. Where else are you going to be tested three times a week?” Moore said. “Today, we started wearing monitors to let us know how much time we spend within six feet of someone. We’ll be able to get those printouts on a daily basis.”

North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services reported a new record of daily confirmed COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Nearly 6,500 North Carolinians were diagnosed with COVID-19 on Wednesday and more than 2,400 people in the state were hospitalized with the virus.

N.C. State’s men’s basketball team has paused all team activities due to two positive COVID-19 tests with the team’s travel party and contract tracing measures. Thursday evening, Duke’s men’s team canceled the remainder of its non-conference slate, citing “an abundance of caution due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

So far, no ACC women’s basketball program has had to cancel or postpone games — or pause team activities — due to positive cases within their own team. Virginia canceled a game against George Washington but didn’t cite COVID-19 as the reason for doing so.

“I think we’re doing a lot of things to make sure we’re staying as safe as possible,” Moore said. “I mean, these kids, you know, they’re not going to sit in their room 24 hours a day. It just isn’t going to happen. Whether they’re here or at home, they’re going out, whether it’s going to get something to eat or hang out or whatever. Again, we preach every day about trying to stay safe. When you’re eating, try to stay six feet away from someone.

“I think a lot of people are getting it wherever they are, and obviously we want to try and avoid it the best we can but, I think we’re doing a pretty good job. They’re being tested a lot and we’re trying to encourage them to stay safe as much as we can.”

ACC play in women’s basketball began Wednesday and is scheduled to continue with league-openers this week.


Wednesday scoreboard

Boston College 68, Georgia Tech 86

  • Stat: Lotta-Maj Lahtinen posted career-highs in scoring and defense with 27 points and eight steals for Nell Fortner’s side, along with seven boards and five assists.

  • Quote: “I thought our effort ad our focus was just right on point to start this game. Really pleased with how our guards came out and shot the ball… That’s the best we’ve shot the three since I’ve been here. I thought, defensively, we did our job through three quarters.” – Nell Fortner, Georgia Tech head coach

  • Takeaway: After an overtime loss to rival Georgia and a close-call with Tulane, the Yellow Jackets played some of their best basketball of the year to open ACC play. They shot 51.7% from the floor, 41.7% from three-point range, and recorded 12 steals.

Elon 47, No. 4 N.C. State 76

  • Stat: The Wolfpack out-rebounded Elon 47-28 and outscored them 21-5 on fast break chances. Elissa Cunane had a season-high 22 points to go along with 13 rebounds.

  • Quote: “I think I’ve definitely struggled offensively lately, so being able to get some easy buckets in the beginning of this game and just rebounding and getting defensive stops really helped me.” – Elissa Cunane, N.C. State junior center

  • Takeaway: N.C. State was without two starters – Kai Crutchfield and Jada Boyd – and still, beat a solid CAA team by nearly 30 points. Cunane swished a top-of-the-key three-pointer in the first quarter with confidence, but never attempted another outside shot. While the junior is dominant in the paint, it’s a shame she doesn’t get the opportunity to take that shot more.

No. 2 Louisville 73, Duke 49

  • Stat: Olivia Cochran notched her second-career double-double with 11 points and 12 boards. Duke struggled mightily from outside, making just 1-of-16 three-point attempts for a 6.3% clip.

  • Quote: “I thought our group competed hard tonight, especially through the first three quarters. We just didn’t shoot it well. We got great looks I thought. We missed a ton of easy ones, layups and open threes, shots that we had been making. I also have to credit Louisville and what they did defensively… I told our group after the game when you have nights like that you got to be able to play your defense at a really high level to give you a chance.” – Kara Lawson, Duke head coach

  • Takeaway: Duke cut the lead to six points in the third quarter, but couldn’t hang with the Cardinals the whole way. The Blue Devils’ defense and shooting just wasn’t efficient enough, and they didn’t really have an answer for the reigning ACC Player of the Year Dana Evans, who poured in 24 points. It’s the first career loss for Lawson, who will need her team to be sharper on both ends of the floor Sunday at Miami.

ACC extras

  • Wes Moore said “we’ll see” as to whether or not starting guard Kai Crutchfield will be healthy enough to play Sunday for the Wolfpack in their ACC opener at Boston College. Moore said Crutchfield is “progressing” from her lingering foot injury “but wasn’t really able to practice the last couple of days.” Moore did not offer an update on Jada Boyd, who had her knee scoped last weekend.

  • Emily Engstler made her season debut for Syracuse on Sunday in the No. 20 Orange’s win over Penn State, tallying two points, eight rebounds, an assist, and a steal in 19 minutes. A season ago, the versatile 6-foot-1 wing led the team in rebounding. On having her back healthy, coach Quentin Hillsman said this earlier this week: “It’s important. Obviously, she adds so much depth to our team. She can play three positions for us, and that’s big for us, just to have hybrid players to add depth. She came right in the game, she didn’t score a lot of points, but she cleaned up the rebounding for us. That’s big. She looks fantastic. She’s in great shape.”

  • Pitt coach Lance White had this to say after his team lost 85-79 to Delaware on Sunday: “Obviously, I am really disappointed in the loss. I think that was a game that we should have won. You turn it over 24 times and they get 25 points off of that and you can’t compete.”

  • For the third straight game, Jayla Everett led Pitt in scoring. The transfer from New Mexico had 23 points and four assists in the loss. Pitt sophomore Rita Igbokwe notched her second career double-double with 11 points and 11 boards.

  • Elizabeth Kitley set a Cassell Coliseum record on Sunday with 17 defensive rebounds in Virginia Tech’s 73-39 win over Gardner Webb. Kitley, who has recorded a double-double in each of the Hokies’ five games this season, also had 17 points.

  • Louisville’s home arena will continue to be called the “KFC Yum! Center” through 2031 as the naming rights deal for the venue was extended through 2031 on Wednesday.

  • Jasmine Carson – who transferred from Georgia Tech to West Virginia this offseason – was ruled immediately eligible to play on Tuesday by the NCAA. Carson, a 5-foot-10 junior from Memphis, Tennessee, was the Yellow Jackets’ fourth-leading scorer last season with 9.7 points-per-game. She was also Georgia Tech’s leading three-point shooter, making 33.8 percent of her outside shots. Carson adds more depth to a WVU team that is 4-0 to start the year.