CHAPEL HILL — Alyssa Ustby and her North Carolina teammates heeded their coach’s call for a performance worthy of playing in a long-running rivalry.
It was good enough to give the Tar Heels another upset win against No. 4 NC State, too.
The freshman had season-highs of 20 points and 12 rebounds to help the Tar Heels beat the Wolfpack 76-69 on Sunday, marking the third straight season UNC has upended a top-10 NC State team.
“I just challenged them from the beginning that these rivalry games are a sacred part of sports,” second-year coach Courtney Banghart said, adding: “You have to honor that with your energy, and they did that.”
The Tar Heels (9-8, 4-8 Atlantic Coast Conference) had won just one game since shortly before Christmas. And they had made just 30% of their 3-pointers all season. Yet they hit a season-best 11 3s on Sunday, including several big ones down the stretch after blowing a 12-point second-half lead against a team coming off a win at No. 1 Louisville.
Elissa Cunane scored 14 points to lead the Wolfpack (12-2, 7-2), though she was limited after halftime by foul trouble before fouling out with 1:36 left. And NC State shot the ball poorly until well into the third quarter after UNC had gained confidence early.
“We knew it would be a dangerous game,” Wolfpack coach Wes Moore said. “Unfortunately, we just didn’t have an answer.”
NC State regrouped with a 13-0 run to get back in it and lead 52-49 entering the final quarter. But the Tar Heels responded with their own push to go ahead for good, starting with freshman Kennedy Todd-Williams’ 3-pointer near the 9-minute mark.
UNC went on to hit 5 of 7 3s in that final period, including Stephanie Watts hitting one that made it 69-62 with 2:11 left. N.C. State got no closer than four the rest of the way.
The Wolfpack had a claim to being ranked No. 1 in Monday’s upcoming poll after beating No. 1 Louisville earlier in the week. Instead, the Wolfpack stumbled once again against the rival Tar Heels, shooting 39% and making 4 of 19 3-pointers.
“We’re not playing like a great team right now,” Moore said. “And we’re definitely not sending a message that we’re unbeatable or anything like that.”
NC State hosts Clemson on Thursday, while the Tar Heels will play next Sunday at Pittsburgh after Thursday’s scheduled game at Boston College was postponed.