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No. 2 Maryland women’s basketball vs. No. 5 N.C. State preview

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The Terps look to continue their perfect start to season with a matchup against the Wolfpack.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

After No. 2 Maryland women’s basketball outlasted No. 6 Baylor over the weekend and No. 3 UConn suffered a blowout loss to South Carolina on Monday, the Terps moved up one spot in the AP Top 25 Poll this past Tuesday.

Maryland pulled off the victory over Baylor without top three-point shooter Katie Benzan and with limited minutes from Diamond Miller, who seemed to reaggravate an already-existing knee injury.

In the absence of multiple starters, freshman Shyanne Sellers got her first career start, but the Ohio native didn’t look phased whatsoever — she played all 40 minutes, logged seven points, five rebounds and three assists. She also earned Big Ten Weekly Honors for her early-season contributions.

“I was just excited to be out there,” Sellers said after the Baylor game. “It was a really cool experience. I thank my teammates for deciding to trust me to step up in those big moments. It’s a lot of hard work dedication, especially from the summer to now, so I just bought in and trusted the process.”

Thursday’s game is set for an 11 a.m. tipoff on FloHoops. It will be Maryland’s first game of the Baha Mar Hoops Pink Flamingo Championship.

N.C. State Wolfpack (4-1, 0-0 ACC)

2020-2021 record: 22-3 (12-2 ACC)

Head coach Wes Moore is in his ninth season as the head coach of N.C. State. Since taking over the Wolfpack in 2013, Moore has a 190-65 (.745) record. Moore has led N.C. State to five NCAA Tournament appearances, and, in conference play, N.C. State is 89-39 (.695). He has never had a losing season in Raleigh, and six have included 20-plus victories.

For the first time in program history, Moore led N.C. State to back-to-back ACC Tournament titles (2020, 2021). His team also earned a number one seed in last year’s March Madness tournament for the first time in school history. Moore has over 700 career wins as a coach.

Other than a defeat to number one ranked South Carolina to open the season, N.C. State’s start has largely resembled Maryland’s; both are top teams in the country that have cruised past lower-ranked opponents. The Wolfpack is averaging 84.4 points per game and giving up a stingy 59.2 on the defensive end.

Players to know

Elissa Cunane, senior center, 6-foot-5, No. 33 — One of the top players in the nation, Cunane is a problem inside for any team. Standing at 6-foot-5, the Summerfield, North Carolina native is an inch taller than Baylor’s NaLyssa Smith, who put up 30 against Maryland on Sunday. To start the season, Cunane is averaging 14.4 and 6.6 rebounds points per game on 50% shooting from the field. She only has three attempts from behind the arc, but two have connected. Interestingly enough, Cunane has just one block on the season.

Jakia Brown-Turner, junior wing, 6-foot, No. 11 — Brown-Turner has picked up where she left off last year. During the 2020-21 season, Brown-Turner was second on the team in points per game (13.5). The junior wing is averaging 10.8 points through five games but has committed more than two turnovers per game. What’s even more worrying is that Brown-Turner has yet to draw a foul this season after getting to the line more than twice per game last year.

Raina Perez, graduate guard, 5-foot-4, No. 2 — As N.C. State’s floor general, Perez is an assist machine. Her court vision is on par with some of the best guards in the country, and she can score the ball too. This season, Perez is averaging 9.8 points, 2.4 assists and is 7-of-14 from behind the arc. As one of the more senior members of the team, Perez’s ability to handle the ball in high-pressure situations is vital to the team’s success.

Strength

Multiple high-level scoring threats. Everyone knows about N.C. State’s one-two punch of Cunane and Brown-Turner — the two averaged a combined 30 points last season — but the No. 5 team in the country has incredible depth. Perez can contribute on the offensive side as can Kayla Jones (8.8 points) and Kai Crutchfield (8.4). But perhaps the biggest surprise of the season has been sophomore transfer from Rutgers, Diamond Johnson. The second-year guard is third on the team in points (10.4), second in rebounds (5.4) and first in assists (3.2). The offense is a strength of this team, as they led the conference in field goal (47) and three-point (37) percentages last season.

Weakness

Rim presence. Although half of the Wolfpacks roster is 6-feet or taller, the team has just four blocks to start the season. A season ago, the Wolfpack was middle of the ACC in blocks per game. And aside from South Carolina, N.C. State has been relatively untested, facing unranked opposition — Wofford, Florida, Towson and Kansas State. Maryland has height in the post and several combo guards that will challenge N.C. State’s defense in the paint.

Three things to watch

1. Will the Terps get healthy? Against Baylor, Diamond Miller limped off the court in the third quarter and did not return to action, and both Faith Masonius and Katie Benzan missed the affair through illness. As a result, on Sunday, Sellers, Chloe Bibby and Mimi Collins all played 40 minutes, and Ashley Owusu, who cracked the 1,000-point mark at Maryland played 39. Three days off should help with recovery, but reinforcements wouldn’t hurt, especially considering the schedule at the Baha Championship.

“It continues to be day to day,” head coach Brenda Frese said of Miller’s injury. “We’re gonna continue to evaluate the soreness and how many minutes she played.”

2. Will the perfect start to the season continue? So far, the only true test Maryland has had this season was Baylor. In the other five games, the Terps have won by an average of 33.5 points. the Bears were the only team to come within single-digit scoring of Maryland. Frese frontloaded the schedule so her team could get multiple test matches to simulate the types of games they will be playing in March and April. Both No. 5 N.C. State and No. 7 Stanford — last year’s national champion — could prove to be a speed bump in what has been a fairly easy first lap for the Terps.

“I didn’t want to be surprised in March,” Frese said. “And I felt a little bit that we needed better competition to prepare us.”

3. Are more starts on the way for Shyanne Sellers? Injuries are a big question mark as the team heads down to the Bahamas, but things could be worse if not for Sellers’ remarkable start to her collegiate career. The No. 22 recruit in the class of 2021 is the fifth-highest scorer on the team with 12 points per game. She also is averaging 4.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and shooting 42% from three. It was trial by fire in her first Maryland start versus Baylor, but Sellers more than held her own and should be in line for heavy minutes in the Bahamas should injuries persist.