RALEIGH — Ninth-ranked Louisville handled a sellout road crowd and a rare two-game losing streak with a stifling defensive performance.
It helped that the Cardinals were back to knocking down shots, too.
Jazmine Jones had 19 points, and Louisville locked down defensively to beat fourth-ranked NC State 66-59 on Thursday night in a matchup of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s top two teams.
Kylee Shook had 10 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks for the Cardinals (22-3, 11-2 ACC), who arrived sitting a game back of the Wolfpack and coming off their first back-to-back losses in three years.
Louisville also faced the possibility of its first three-game skid in eight years. Jones said she gathered Shook and Bionca Dunham as fellow seniors, as well as junior point guard Dana Evans, to talk before practice about it.
“The senior class hasn’t lost two games in a row since our freshman year,” Jones said. “Dana hasn’t lost two in a row since she’s been here. So we knew this game was a must-win.”
Louisville’s defense took the Wolfpack and leading scorer Elissa Cunane completely out of rhythm, and the offense shot 48% after shooting 34.7% combined in the losses to No. 14 Florida State and Syracuse.
“We followed the scouting report and did exactly what we needed to do,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “Defense has not been our problem the last (two) games. We have done a great job defensively on Florida State, on Syracuse. We just couldn’t put the ball in the basket.”
NC State (22-2, 11-2) entered the night with the program’s highest ranking since January 2000, but the Wolfpack shot just 32%, including 5 of 20 from 3-point range, after entering the night ranked in the top 20 nationally in 3-point percentage.
“They came out ready to play and took it to us and we dug a hole,” Wolfpack coach Wes Moore said. “I thought we took some bad shots in the first quarter in particular, forced some things. Maybe we were a little nervous or whatever. We weren’t in attacking mode.”
Much of the Wolfpack’s success had come in a “four out, one in” system that fans players out to the perimeter to create space for Cunane inside while also setting up plenty of 3-point looks.
But the Cardinals used Shook — a 6-foot-4 senior and the ACC’s shot-blocking leader — to frustrate Cunane. The 6-5 sophomore came in averaging 17 points and 10.5 rebounds, but finished with 10 points on 1-for-12 shooting. Her only basket was a 3-pointer.
Louisville also made things difficult on Wolfpack point guard Aislinn Konig. The senior came in as the team’s No. 2 scorer (11.1 points) but finished with just four points on 2-for-9 shooting.
Kayla Jones had 17 points to lead N.C. State.
Louisville: The Cardinals were coming off losses at home to No. 14 Florida State and on the road to Syracuse, marking their first time with consecutive losses since February 2017. And they hadn’t lost three straight since the 2011-12 season. They responded well to that challenge Thursday.
NC State: The Wolfpack had a chance to stretch their ACC lead to two games while also claiming the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Cardinals as they pursue the program’s first league regular-season crown since the 1989-90 season. But NC State made just 3 of 16 shots in an eight-point opening quarter that had Moore’s squad playing catch-up the rest of the night.
“We took some tough shots,” Jones said. “They can run. They’re a team that scores off transition, and our tough shots were basically like turnovers.”
The Final Push
NC State trailed by 14 in the first half and got as close as three twice in the fourth quarter, but the Cardinals landed what turned out to be a finishing blow when Jones knocked down a 3-pointer and Elizabeth Balogun followed with a layup on the next possession.
Shook followed with a layup moments later, capping a seven-point burst that gave Louisville a 60-48 lead with 4:09 left.
Louisville: The Cardinals host Notre Dame on Sunday.
NC State: Georgia Tech visits the Wolfpack on Sunday.