Cuane, Leslie help No. 8 Wolfpack stay unbeaten
ATLANTA (AP) — Elissa Cunane loves how North Carolina State keeps finding ways to remain the only unbeaten team in Division I.
This game was the Wolfpack’s second straight against a full-court press, and they again found a way to overcome a difficult challenge and keep winning.
“I think we finally just calmed down,” she said. “We knew eventually we’d be able to pass around it and work through it. We stayed with it and came out on top.”
Cunane scored 17 points, Kiara Leslie added 16 points and No. 8 N.C. State took sole possession of first place in the ACC with a 68-60 victory over Georgia Tech on Sunday.
The Wolfpack (20-0, 7-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), a Sweet 16 team last season, are off to the best start in program history and their best ACC start in 30 years. They overcame 18 turnovers, most of them forced by Georgia Tech’s press, to beat a team that was 8-1 at home and coming off an upset win over No. 12 Syracuse.
N.C. State stands atop the league following No. 1 Notre Dame’s upset loss at North Carolina.
Elizabeth Dixon finished with 17 points, and Elizabeth Balogun had 14 before fouling out for Georgia Tech (13-7, 3-4). The Yellow Jackets ended the third quarter by missing 11 of their last 13 shots from the field and trailed by five. The Wolfpack took charge in the period with an 11-1 run that included two 3s by Leslie and another by Aislinn Konig.
N.C. State committed five fouls in the first 1:30 of the fourth, helping Georgia Tech force a 52-all tie on Francesca Pan’s 3, before Kayla Jones hit a 3, and the Wolfpack didn’t trail again.
It was a less hectic finish after N.C. State eked past Clemson and its press in the last game despite hitting just two field goals and giving up eight offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter.
With 1:23 remaining against Georgia Tech, Cunane had the deciding three-point play to put N.C. State up six, cutting to the basket to catch Aislinn Konig’s inbound pass from the baseline for an easy layup.
“That was probably the biggest play in the game,” Wolfpack coach Wes Moore said. “She did a nice job of really finishing it strong. It was a very physical game. She did a great job of hanging in there of being able to get it up, finish and knock down the free throw.”
Cunane has practiced the play many times.
“Coach made a great call because they were overplaying a lot and switching most things,” Cunane said. “He had me in the right position to call that play.”
N.C. State: The Wolfpack have won six straight since losing their leading scorer, Grace Hunter, to a season-ending knee injury. A lot of their success has come from Leslie, who has averaged 18.5 points over the stretch and is a transfer like Hunter who surpassed 1,000 career points.
Moore knows his team’s schedule is about to get harder with four games against ranked opponents next month. The Wolfpack have yet to play a ranked team. “A lot of your success is who you’ve played,” he said. “The schedule is getting tougher and tougher, so we’ve still got a lot of roadblocks ahead of us, but I couldn’t be any more proud of them right now.”
Georgia Tech: The Jackets’ press forced five turnovers during a 5-minute scoring drought that helped them take a 23-21 lead, but N.C. State eventually settled down after committing 12 miscues in the first half. Georgia Tech’s biggest problem was missing too many layups and easy looks as the more experienced Wolfpack took charge. Coach MaChelle Joseph was not available to speak with reporters immediately after the game.
N.C. State: At Wake Forest on Thursday.
Georgia Tech: At North Carolina on Thursday.