No. 3 Wolfpack women top Tar Heels to stay unbeaten in ACC
Published 12:00 am Monday, January 31, 2022
CHAPEL HILL (AP) — Kai Crutchfield and her North Carolina State teammates have enough veteran talent on the roster to handle just about any deficit.
The third-ranked Wolfpack proved it again Sunday, this time on a court where Crutchfield’s team had lost with a top-10 ranking in each of the previous two years.
Crutchfield scored 16 points and N.C. State rallied from a 12-point deficit to beat rival North Carolina 66-58 on Sunday, remaining unbeaten in the Atlantic Coast Conference race. It started with a strong punch out of halftime to take control, then the composure to respond every time the margin got smaller.
It was the kind of performance that highlighted both N.C. State’s upside as a Final Four contender, as well as reason for coach Wes Moore to be frustrated after looking a step slow through the first half and not playing with enough aggression.
“At the half we both had 11 field goals but they had shot 10 free throws and we had shot four,” Moore said. “And I think that was because they were the aggressor and we were kind of on our heels.
“That was a little disappointing considering we’ve got all these graduate students and seniors that we feel like they’ve been through the wars. … But couldn’t be prouder, the third quarter — I thought they just came out and looked like they believed that they could get it done.”
Elissa Cunane added 11 points and 12 rebounds in the Wolfpack’s second recent show of comeback punch. N.C. State had rallied from 14 down after three quarters to beat No. 5 Louisville on Jan. 20.
The Wolfpack (19-2, 10-0 ACC) led by as many as 14 points in the fourth quarter, then had to hold off a frantic rally by the Tar Heels (16-4, 6-4). UNC got as close as five late but Crutchfield took a feed from Kayla Jones against the Tar Heels’ scrambling traps and buried a 3 from the left wing with 1:12 left that kept the Wolfpack in control.
“I’ve played basketball for a while now,” said Crutchfield, who had scored in double figures just twice all season. “It’s knowing I’ve hit those shots before and also my teammates giving me that extra oomph in having confidence in me as well.”
Kennedy Todd-Williams had 15 points and seven rebounds to lead UNC. But leading scorer Deja Kelly — who came in ranked third in the ACC with 16.7 points per game — went scoreless on 0-for-11 shooting in this one with Crutchfield leading that defensive effort.
The Tar Heels gave the Wolfpack plenty of trouble in this one after losing in a rout in the first meeting, but they shot just 32% in this one and made 5 of 23 3-pointers.
“We knew the the version of us that we showed at their place wasn’t the version that we wanted to be something that people remembered, so we thought we took care of that,” UNC coach Courtney Banghart said. “But you can’t shoot so poorly for stretches of the game and expect to beat a really good team.”
N.C. State: The Louisville win put the Wolfpack in firm control of the league lead in pursuit of the program’s first regular-season since 1989-90. That perfect ACC start so far had included a 72-45 win against the Tar Heels in the first meeting after UNC had started 13-0. The Wolfpack had chances to bumble this one away once pushing in front, but shot 53.6% after halftime — a stretch that began with pushing the tempo and getting Cunane going inside — and avoided walking out of Carmichael Arena yet again with a loss.
UNC: The Tar Heels responded much better than the first meeting, when they fell behind big early and never recovered. They pounced early when N.C. State opened the game with missed shots and turnovers, but never strung together enough baskets to feel comfortable. Its 27-15 lead early was down to six by halftime, then N.C. State rushed out of the break to take the lead for good.
N.C. State: No. 20 Notre Dame hosts the Wolfpack on Tuesday in a game that was rescheduled from Jan. 9.
UNC: The Tar Heels visit Wake Forest on Thursday.