GREENSBORO, N.C. -- North Carolina State keeps gaining confidence with every game, even in the face of a second-half scoring barrage from the Atlantic Coast Conference's top player.
Freshman Marissa Kastanek scored 15 points to help N.C. State hold off Monica Wright and Virginia (No. 19 ESPN/USA Today, No. 24 AP) 66-59 in Friday's ACC tournament quarterfinals, sending the Wolfpack to the semifinals for the first time since a surprise run to the final three years ago.
Nikitta Gartrell added 12 points for the sixth-seeded Wolfpack (19-12), who built a 14-point lead midway through the second half then came up with enough plays to hang on for the victory.
N.C. State faces seventh-seeded Boston College -- which upset Florida State (No. 6 ESPN/USA Today, No. 8 AP) on Friday night -- on Saturday in what has become an extended tournament debut for first-year coach Kellie Harper.
N.C. State, which started 2-5 in the ACC this year, has won six of seven and is now halfway to its first league tournament title since 1991.
"I think our kids are confident right now," Harper said. "They're confident with how we're playing and what we're trying to do and I think they're confident in each other. Their mentality, their emotions, what they say in the huddles, it's what you want to hear."
Wright scored 22 of her 32 points in the final 12 minutes for third-seeded Virginia (21-9), but she got little help. Her teammates combined to shoot 9 for 36 (25 percent), leaving the league player of the year to carry the burden alone.
"When the rest of the team was really not up to par, she tried to will this team to win," Virginia coach Debbie Ryan said. "Usually one or two come with her. Tonight I didn't feel like very many were really on their games. It made it very difficult for her to try to pull people through."
She almost did it anyway. After going scoreless for 22 minutes due mostly to foul trouble, Wright scored 17 straight points for her team to help the third-seeded Cavaliers pull to 53-50 with 4:51 left.
But N.C. State kept finding just enough offense to keep Wright at bay, getting a stickback from Sharnise Beal -- who is playing through a knee injury that has her limping up and down the floor -- on the ensuing possession to push the margin back to five and get back momentum.
A few minutes later, Gartrell knocked down a 3-pointer over Lexie Gerson to push the margin to 58-51 with 1:45 left.
"I just felt it, so I just shot it," she said. "I felt like, it's my senior year, so you have to leave it all out there. I'd rather me take it and miss it than a freshman take it and miss it."
The Cavaliers made a final push to get back to within four on Wright's layup, but Kastanek knocked down two free throws to push the lead back up to 61-55 with 42.9 seconds left. That was part of N.C. State's clinching 7 for 8 performance at the foul line in the final minute.
"We've had games like this where we dig ourselves a hole, and we usually get out of it," Wright said. "But this time, it just seemed like the hole was too deep to try to work our way out of."
Wright got off to a fast start, scoring 10 of Virginia's first 15 points. But she didn't score again the rest of the half, sitting a spell after picking up her second foul midway through the first half before going back in and inexplicably picking up her third foul by reaching in on rebounder Lucy Ellison.
As soon as the whistle blew, the red-clad Wolfpack fans in a nearby section gave a loud cheer as Wright headed to the bench with 6:57 left in the half. Virginia didn't manage much offense after its star departed, getting just two field goals the rest of the half.
N.C. State took momentum to the locker room when Kastanek took a feed and made a hurried 3-pointer from the left corner at the horn for a 27-24 lead. The Wolfpack didn't let up, getting 3s from Kastanek and Brittany Strachan to push the margin to 46-33 before Wright finally got her first basket since that opening flurry.
Even then, N.C. State pushed the ball upcourt and answered with another 3 from Kastanek for its largest lead at 49-35 with 11:32 left.