The No. 1 Louisville Cardinals (16-0, 9-0 ACC) host the No. 4 NC State Wolfpack (11-1, 6-1 ACC) on Monday night at 7 p.m. ET in the teams’ only regular-season meeting this season.
The ESPN2 matchup would be featuring the top two teams in the nation if an Elissa Cunane-less NC State hadn’t stumbled and lost to the Virginia Tech Hokies last Thursday. The Wolfpack’s star player, Cunane is averaging 16.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. She was held back in COVID protocol a little longer than the rest of the team, which came off a three-week pause on Jan. 24.
Cunane is likely going to be back for the defending ACC Tournament champs when they face Louisville, the defending ACC regular-season champs. However, she may not be 100 percent.
The Wolfpack picked up a huge win in their third game of the season, defeating the then-No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks on Dec. 3. NC State looked like maybe the best team in the country that night, but had a close call against the Boston College Eagles (5-7, 1-7 ACC) just 10 days later.
That was NC State’s ACC opener.
The Wolfpack have been pretty dominant since then until the pesky Hokies popped up on its schedule on Jan. 24 and handed them a two-point loss. However, that game was played without Cunane.
Louisville has had some close calls of late as well, making it seem like there is no single dominant team in women’s college basketball right now. The Cardinals’ last four wins have all been within 13 points and include a two-point win over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (8-7, 5-6 ACC) on Jan. 24 and a three-point win over the Miami Hurricanes (7-7, 4-7 ACC) last Tuesday.
Louisville has a superstar to match the talent of Cunane (a junior center) in Dana Evans, a senior guard who averages 19.5 points and 4.4 assists per game. Freshmen Olivia Cochran and Hailey Van Lith back up Evans with 12.3 points per contest apiece. Cochran (a forward) and Van Lith (a guard) also are solid rebounders, with 6.4 rebounds and 5.8 boards per game, respectively.
For NC State, the co-stars are sophomore wing Jakia Brown-Turner (14.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game) and senior forward Kayla Jones (13.2 and 7.4). The latter hit a key 3-pointer down the stretch against South Carolina.
The two teams are pretty evenly matched in scoring offense and defense, so it should be a good one.
No. 4 NC State Wolfpack (11-1, 6-1 ACC) vs. No. 1 Louisville Cardinals (16-0, 9-0 ACC)
When: Monday, Feb. 1, at 7 p.m. ET
Where: KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, KY
Key to the matchup: Free throws. Louisville shoots a far better percentage from the line (79.2 to 71.3), but NC State gets to the line more frequently (18.6 attempts per game to 15.3). And the biggest issue for the Cardinals is how frequently they send opponents to the stripe compared to NC State (18 attempts allowed per game to 13.4).
Reason to watch: These were the two best teams in the country entering last week. With Cunane back for the Wolfpack, it should be high-quality basketball and a possible preview of the ACC Tournament championship game.