Louisville Visits NC State in Top Five Match-up
One of the biggest games of the NCAA Women's Basketball season happens tonight as #3 Louisville and #4 NC State gear up to decide who the top team in the ACC is. The rankings listed reflect the AP Poll.
I'm going to try a different format for game previews that should be simpler to follow so let's see how this goes.
Teams: #3 Louisville vs #4 NC State
Records: Louisville (15-1, 5-0 ACC), NC State (16-2, 7-0 ACC)
Where: Reynolds Coliseum, Raleigh, N.C.
When: 7:30 p.m. ET (assuming we don't run into a RAIN delay in a basketball game- looking at you, KFC Yum! Center and UofL men's basketball)
Radio: 790-AM WKRD
Head-to-Head Record: Louisville leads 8-5
Coaches: Jeff Walz, 15th season as Louisville head coach
Wes Moore, 9th season as NC State head coach
Key Players: Louisville: Kianna Smith (12.2 ppg), Hailey Van Lith (11.9 ppg), Emily Engstler (10.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.8 steals per game)
NC State: Elissa Cunane (14.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg), Diamond Johnson (12.0 ppg), Raina Perez (8.8 ppg, 3.2 assists per game)
This is a game that has been circled on everyone's calendar since the schedule was released. Stacking up with Kentucky and UConn (prior to Paige Bueckers' injury), this should be considered one of Louisville's top three games this year.
Louisville and NC State has become one of the top rivalries in both the ACC and NCAA in women's basketball since the Cards joined the ACC. The Wolfpack won the first two meetings in 1985 and 2004, but the Cards have owned the series since then. During the Asia Durr era, Louisville won six straight meetings, including a 92-62 victory when Durr exploded for 47 points.
The emergence of Elissa Cunane has helped NC State bring a little balance to the rivalry by winning the last two games. The 6'5 center, who is one of the best players in the country, has proven to be a challenge for UofL in the post in recent match-ups. Her return from injury in the Feb. 1, 2021 proved to be the difference maker.
The two powerhouses last met in the ACC Championship last season. It came down to the final couple seconds when Perez heaved up a prayer that went in when 0:02 remaining to take a two-point lead.
As a team, NC State is averaging an incredible 79.7 ppg, giving them a +22.9 point advantage per game. They shoot over 40% from three-point range while knocking down 8.5 of them per game. The Wolfpack also limits their turnovers with just under 13 per game while forcing opponents into 16 turnovers per game.
Louisville has a fantastic defense. Minus a couple of games, they've been able to shut down opponents and the defense has propelled them to most of their wins. The Cards have finally started to find some offensive rhythm. Hailey Van Lith and Kianna Smith both seem to be seeing the basket well right now. This has opened up the inside game for Emily Engstler and Olivia Cochran to become more of a threat.
However, Engstler's emotions have raised concerns lately. As we have mentioned before, Engstler plays with a lot of passion and heart, but wears her emotions on her sleeve and isn't afraid to bicker with the officials, something that the stripes hate. Engstler had technical fouls called on her in back-to-back games with Jeff Walz earning himself a tech in the game prior to those two, giving the Cards a three-game streak in early January with a technical called.
Olivia Cochran and Mykasa Robinson each received a technical foul against Kentucky while Chelsie Hall received one against Michigan. The combined six technical fouls is 16 total games for the Cards is a high number.
So, what are the keys to the game for a Louisville win?
-- Contain Elissa Cunane. No one is going to silence her from the stat sheet entirely, but limiting her touches and open looks near the basket is a start. Keep a body on the senior center after every shot.
-- Control emotions. Playing with a fire under your belt and plenty of passion is good, but keep emotions under control. Anything that can result in a free shots for NC State is not good here. We have a better chance of Jeff McAdams going back to a gas-powered car before we find good women's basketball officials, but the whistles cannot get into Louisville's head.
-- Trust the game plan and scouting report. How many times have we heard Jeff Walz praise the scouting report and the game plan, giving that credit for a win? The entire coaching staff has sleepless nights watching film to look for weaknesses to expose opposing teams. They do a great job at it. They'll come up with a game plan to execute that. Even if it doesn't reflect on the court immediately, be patient and trust it.
Happy Thursday and Go Cards!