LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A bystander for most of the past three weeks, Elissa Cunane returned to the court with passion and energy, helping No. 4 NC State beat the nation’s top-ranked team on the road for the second time this season.
Cunane scored 16 points in her first game in nearly a month because of COVID-19 protocols, and the Wolfpack used a stifling defense to hand No. 1 Louisville its first loss, 74-60 on Monday night.
Jakia Brown-Turner and Jada Boyd scored 16 points apiece and Raina Perez added 15 for the Wolfpack (12-1, 7-1 Atlantic Coast Conference). NC State beat then-No. 1 South Carolina 54-46 on Dec. 3.
“Having four people in double figures and a lot of people contributing, it was just a great team win,” N.C. State coach Wes Moore said. “Really proud of them.”
According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Wolfpack became the third Division I women’s team in the last 20 seasons to play the top-ranked team twice and win both games, and the first to get both of those wins during the regular season and on the road.
“I’m excited to see where we can take this,” Perez said.
Dana Evans scored 29 points for the Cardinals (16-1, 9-1), but no other Louisville player scored in double figures.
“You give credit to NC State’s defense,” Evans said. “We just didn’t get it done.”
Cunane, the All-American junior center, made 7 of 9 shots and grabbed six rebounds. She had missed the Wolfpack’s previous two games, including the team’s first loss of the season Thursday to Virginia Tech, after NC State returned from a three-week pause because of COVID-19.
The sideline view made Cunane hungry to contribute in every way possible, and she showed no rust in her first game back.
“That allowed me to get involved in other ways,” she said of her hiatus. “Watching gave me a different perspective on our offensive sets that we run and the defense. It really gave me kind of an edge to see how our offensive sets were working out.
“Coming back felt good.”
The Wolfpack won the rebound battle 44-29 and outscored the Cardinals 36-18 in the paint. NC State shot 44% from the field while Louisville shot 38%.
After an 18-all first quarter, N.C. State led 29-25 at halftime before building its first double-digit lead in the third and extending its advantage to as many as 18 points in the fourth. Perez set the initial tone before Brown-Turner and Boyd joined in to help the Wolfpack earn their first victory at Louisville in nearly four years.
NC State visits rival UNC on Sunday, the first of two meetings with the Tar Heels.