LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A bystander for most of the past three weeks, Elissa Cunane returned to the court with passion and energy, helping No. 4 North Carolina 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 No. 4 North Carolina State 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). N.C. 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 N.C. 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 a loss to Virginia Tech on Thursday, after N.C. State returned from a three-week pause because of COVID-19.
The sideline view not only 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. N.C. 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.
Louisville has two games to regroup but will likely drop after becoming the last unbeaten Top 25 team to lose. N.C. State figures to rise in the poll.
N.C. State: Cunane’s return made the Wolfpack whole again, especially in the paint. They had their way inside against the Cardinals and beat them to a lot of loose balls.
Louisville: After weathering their share of challenges since becoming No. 1 for the first time two weeks ago, playing from behind against the Wolfpack proved to be too tall a task for the Cardinals. They struggled to string together baskets for much of the game.
N.C. State: Visits rival North Carolina on Sunday, the first of two meetings with the Tar Heels.
Louisville: At Boston College on Thursday night, seeking a season sweep of the Eagles.