Cunane returns to lead NC State past No. 1 L’ville
- Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.
Led by the return of leading scorer and rebounder Elissa Cunane after almost a month sidelined, No. 4 NC State took down No. 1 Louisville, the last remaining undefeated team in the women’s AP Top 25, on Monday night.
The 74-60 victory marked a bounce-back effort for the visiting Wolfpack, who suffered their first loss of the season to Virginia Tech last Thursday, when they were ranked No. 2. UConn, ranked No. 3, also lost for the first time last Thursday.
NC State (12-1) becomes the first team to beat two No. 1 teams in a season — the Wolfpack beat then-No. 1 South Carolina on Dec. 3 — since Stanford did so in 2007-08. The only other women’s team in the past 20 seasons to knock off No. 1 twice was Maryland in 2005-06, when the Terrapins won the national championship.
Monday marked the return of center Cunane, who last played on Jan. 3 and had been sidelined by COVID-19. She had 16 points and six rebounds against the Cardinals.
Cunane said her mother, who was in the stands Monday at Louisville, was a little worried about her first game back.
“I gave her a thumbs-up at the end of the first quarter, because I was feeling good,” Cunane said. “Knowing that it can be taken away in an instant really makes you want to play hard, go the extra mile. Because you know that tomorrow is not promised.”
Dana Evans led Louisville (16-1) with 29 points.
Louisville and NC State, the top two teams in the ACC, were supposed to meet on Jan. 17, but the Wolfpack were in the midst of a three-week pause at the time due to COVID-19 concerns. NC State returned to action on Jan. 24, beating Virginia Tech 89-87. Then, last Thursday, the Wolfpack gave up a Division I-record 26 points in overtime in a rematch with Virginia Tech, losing 83-71.
The Wolfpack have limited opponents to 58.8 points per game when Cunane has played. In the two games without her against Virginia Tech, NC State allowed 89 and 83 points.
With Cunane back Monday, the Wolfpack looked much more like themselves.
To that end, NC State coach Wes Moore was asked where he’d rank his team, considering its two wins over No. 1-ranked teams and the fact that at full strength, the Wolfpack are 11-0.
“I’ll leave that up to other people,” Moore said. “We’ve just got to make sure we continue to get better. I was concerned coming into this game, because I felt we looked tired, we looked sluggish after the layoff. We needed to get our mojo back, and so tonight, I thought we did that.
“It’s great for our players to be mentioned in the rankings and all that. But it doesn’t mean a whole lot right now. It’s all about March and April. But I’m really proud of our kids. It’s been a tough three-week stretch.”
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, this is the third straight season in which there have been three losses by AP No. 1 teams prior to March. Previously, the last time the top-ranked teams were beaten three times before March was during the 2012-13 season.
NC State’s win Monday also marked the Wolfpack’s fourth victory over a No. 1-ranked team in program history.
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