Since dropping their season opener to the top-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks, the No. 2 NC State Wolfpack (10-1) have reeled over 10 straight wins, including victories over top-10 teams in the then-No. 2 Maryland Terrapins and then-No. 6 Indiana Hoosiers.
The Pack can score another ranked win on Thursday evening at 6 p.m. ET (ACCN), when they host the No. 17 Georgia Lady Bulldogs (8-1).
While Elissa Cunane remains the all-around anchor for NC State, the boost provided by sophomore transfer Diamond Johnson (Rutgers) has helped the Pack reach their elite level. Coming off the bench in all but one game, the guard, who earned Second Team All-Big Ten honors last season, could be on her way to an ACC Sixth Player of the Year season. She currently edges Cunane for the team lead in scoring, posting 12.6 points per game. She also adds 5.4 rebounds and almost two steals per game.
Johnson likewise leads the Pack in 3-pointers attempted and made, as she has swished 41.3 percent of her long-range shots. Overall, the Wolfpack are firing a fantastic 42.6 percent from deep, the second-best mark in the nation. Such shooting has propelled the Pack to a top-20 scoring offense at 81.5 points per game.
Georgia has a corps of athletic defenders that they will deploy against Johnson and NC State’s sharpshooting offense, led by Que Morrison. The 2021 SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year returned to Athens for a fifth and final season. She has picked up right where she left off, exerting unwavering intensity and effort on both ends of the floor.
Defense ➡️ Offense— Georgia Basketball (@UGA_WBB) December 8, 2021
Georgia up 51-26 pic.twitter.com/HMsKzad8EU
The Dawgs will need their defense to be on point, making the game a grind-it-out battle in order to situate themselves for the upset bid.
In contrast to the high-scoring Wolfpack, the Lady Bulldogs can struggle to put the ball in the basket, in part due to subpar 3-point shooting. Georgia has shot only 27.5 percent from behind the arc; however, they have thus far held opponents to an unsustainably frigid 19.5 percent from 3-point range.
Georgia has succeeded in cashing in on its sometimes wayward shooting, with the Dawgs’ deep rotation of capable bigs, led by graduate Jenna Staiti, totaling 16.8 offensive boards per game. Yet, they will have to contend with an NC State team that tends to dominate the defensive glass, grabbing more than 30 defensive boards per game.
No. 2 NC State Wolfpack (10-1) vs. No. 17 Georgia Lady Bulldogs (8-1)
When: Thursday, Dec. 16 at 6 p.m. ET
Where: Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, NC
How to watch: ACC Network
Key to the matchup: Can the Dawgs have a block party in Raleigh? If the Wolfpack have an uncharacteristically off night from 3, going inside to get buckets might not be the best backup plan. Georgia is fifth in the nation in blocks per game, swatting more than seven opponent attempts per contest. The 6-foot-5 Jenna Staiti leads the Lady Dawgs with 2.56 blocks per game, while Malury Bates, a 6-foot-3 redshirt senior, rejects almost two shots per game. Alternatively, encouraging the similarly 6-foot-5 Elissa Cunane to challenge Staiti and company could result in foul trouble for the Dawgs, and favorable circumstances for the Pack.