Wolfpack turns rematch with Tar Heels into mismatch

NC State's fourth-ranked women's basketball team avenged a loss in Chapel Hill with an emphatic 82-63 rout of rival UNC

NC State's Jakia Brown-Turner shoots as North Carolina's Stephanie Watts defends during the first half of the annual Play4Kay game at Reynolds Coliseum on Sunday (Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer via AP)

The rematch turned out to be a mismatch.

Motivated by an upset loss in Chapel Hill two weeks ago, No. 4 NC State took out some frustration on rival North Carolina with an 82-63 rout of the Tar Heels at Reynolds Coliseum on Sunday.

Jakia Brown-Turner scored a career-high 25 points while Kayla Jones rebounded from a difficult first half to finish with 20 points to lead the Wolfpack to its 15th victory in 17 games this season. The win was especially meaningful because it came on Play for Kay day, an event designed to honor former coach Kay Yow and raise money for the cancer foundation that carries her name.

“We wanted to come out and show how we could really play,” said senior Jones, the team’s emotional leader. “We didn’t have our best game over there in Chapel Hill. Once we saw it on film, we saw what we could correct. It made a difference. Really it was our transition. We had to run, and also get back in transition. We did coach Moore’s plan and it worked out.”

UNC (11-9. 6-9 ACC) hurt State in the first meeting by jumping ahead early and having a hot hand from long distance. The Tar Heels hit 11 3-pointers in that game.

This time, the Wolfpack’s defense clamped down by forcing its opponent to miss its first 15 attempts from beyond the arc before finally making one late in the third quarter.

Offensively, State established itself early by running off 14 unanswered points between the first and second periods to turn an 8-8 tie into a commanding lead it maintained the rest of the way.

Brown-Turner was the driving force behind the decisive spurt by scoring seven of the points.

And that was only the start.

Hitting four of her five 3-pointers and going 10 of 16 from overall, the sophomore was dominant both from the perimeter and at the rim in a performance inspired by an uncharacteristically poor game against the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill.

“It definitely was very personal for me,” said Brown-Turner, who was 4 of 16 (1 of 6) with three turnovers in the earlier loss. “I didn’t play as well as I wanted to the first time we played UNC and I took a lot of bad shots. I just knew I had to not worry about scoring, just play the game. Do whatever coach Moore needed me to do for the team.

“I was just playing, taking good shots, looking for my teammates, rebounding, playing defense. When you’re doing that, it just comes.”

Brown-Turner wasn’t the only one who was at the top of her game Sunday.

All-American center Elissa Cunane contributed a double-double with 17 points and 14 rebounds while adding four assists and going 7 for 7 from the free throw line.

As a team, the Wolfpack (10-2 ACC) shot 54% percent from the floor in the second half. That includes an 8 of 10 effort by Jones, a marked contrast from a first half in which she missed six of her first seven field goal attempts.

“At halftime, I talked to (assistant coach Erin Bath) and she was like ‘it’s okay, calm down. It’s going to come to you. Just play ball and have fun,’” Jones said.

“A lot of times a player will get down and it will snowball on them,” State coach Wes Moore added. “But (Jones) did a great job of turning that around.”

Deja Kelly led a balanced UNC scoring attack with 14 points while Petra Holešínská had 13 points and seven rebounds for a Tar Heels team that is likely to need a strong finish to earn an NCAA tournament bid.

By contrast, Moore is hoping the strong effort in the rivalry game will help his team start to build momentum for a high tournament seeding and a deep run into March.

“We’ve got two more dress rehearsals before we start playing in the postseason, start a new season,” Moore said. “I need to probably lighten up a little bit. I know I’m hard on them. I’m thinking ‘if it ain’t perfect, it ain’t right.’ 

“We’re trying to close that gap between where we are and where we could be if we cleaned everything up. We’re trying to close that gap as much as we can. So definitely, we’ve got to keep getting better. We’ve got to keep fixing things and hope that we are playing our best basketball in March.”