Following a dominant weekend in Daytona in which it outscored its two opponents by a combined 83 points, No. 9 Maryland women’s basketball will travel to Raleigh for a matchup with No. 13 NC State as part of the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge Thursday.
The Terps enter not having lost since Nov. 13, winning each of their last six games by an average margin of over 36 points. But the Wolfpack are the first ranked opponent Maryland has faced since its first loss of the season to South Carolina on Nov. 10.
Maryland and NC State have an extensive history against one another, as they were once rival powerhouse programs in the ACC until the former’s departure in 2014. The Wolfpack currently lead the all-time series between the teams — winning 43 of their previous 79 matchups with the Terps — while most recently eliminating Maryland in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
“They have an all-around game,” senior guard Blair Watson said. “You can’t focus on one thing. They can score, they can pass, they can definitely shoot off the three, so I think we have to be ready for each and every player and step up and make sure we play them as we should.”
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. ET on Thursday night with the game being televised on ESPN.
North Carolina State Wolfpack (8-0, 0-0 ACC)
Head coach Wes Moore returns for his seventh season at the helm for NC State in 2019, coming off of one of the program’s best seasons in almost fifty years. The 2018-19 Wolfpack finished with a 28-6 record and were ranked No. 9 in the final USA Today Coaches Poll after making their second consecutive trip to the Sweet Sixteen. Moore eclipsed 600-career wins earlier this season and figures to be one of the top coaches Brenda Frese faces off with this season.
Players to Know
Sophomore forward Elissa Cunane (No. 33) is the Wolfpack’s most imposing interior player on the offensive end of the floor, using her 6’5 frame to overpower opposing players down low. She’s led NC State in scoring so far this season, averaging an efficient 14.8 points per game on 63 percent shooting from the field, along with 9.9 rebounds per game. With the ability to stretch the floor as well — she’s currently 5-for-8 from beyond the arc — Cunane offers a diverse offensive challenge for Maryland sophomore forward Shakira Austin.
“She’s really talented, she leads them in scoring for a reason,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “She’s a big presence inside, so we’re gonna have our hands full, especially with the way they can shoot the three. ... They have an inside presence as well as an outside presence, so for us, it’s just collective team defense.”
Senior guard Aislinn Konig (No. 1) serves as the lead guard for NC State this season, leading the team with 29 assists through the team’s first eight games of the season. Though second on the team in scoring behind Cunane, she’s struggled to make the most of her shot attempts with a 36 percent field goal percentage and a sub-30 percent three-point percentage.
Taking care of the ball. Though a majority of Maryland’s previous few opponents have been teams that struggle with turnovers, such will not be the case with its next one. The Wolfpack average just 13.4 turnovers per game — the lowest mark by a Maryland opponent this season.
Protecting the rim. For a team that has three players 6’3 and taller, it hasn’t necessarily translated to strong protection at the rim. NC State averages just 2.5 blocks per game, with its tallest player in Cunane posting only 0.5 per contest. Conversely, the Terps average double the Wolfpack’s mark at 5.0 per game, with Austin averaging nearly 1.2 swats per contest.
Three Things to Watch
1. Will Maryland be able to impose its will defensively? The Terps defense-into-offense approach has largely been the driving force behind the team’s winning streak, climbing into the top-5 in the country in turnover margin, as well as into the top-10 in steals per game. But facing a disciplined NC State team, will the same formula yield success? Or will Maryland have to find a way to produce offensively without the benefit of points off turnovers?
“We wanna see how much we’ve grown,” Frese said. “Especially since our second game of the season was South Carolina and having some size inside with NC State and the way they shoot it, so it’s really just how far we’ve come in our defense against a legitimate top-15 opponent.”
2. Can Taylor Mikesell get back in her groove? Following a three-game stretch in which the sophomore guard averaged 18 points per game, Mikesell has struggled over the team’s previous two contests. She’s managed just four total points in the team’s last two, shooting a combined 1-for-12 from the field and 1-for-8 from beyond the arc. She went through a similar cold-stretch earlier this season, but don’t expect Mikesell to stop shooting anytime soon.
“We always look at one another and we’re like ‘just keep shooting, just keep shooting’,” Watson said of the team’s shooter mentality. “Especially as shooters we’re always just like ‘keep shooting, because it’s gonna fall’.”
3. Will Kaila Charles start rolling? The senior guard had her best performance of the season in Maryland’s last game against Belmont, recording a season-high 20 points on 9-for-14 shooting while adding five rebounds and three assists. Charles has shown in the past that she’s capable of stringing multiple strong performances together consecutively, and if she were to do so again on Thursday, it makes the Terps a tough beat regardless of the opponent.
“[Charles playing well] means a lot, especially because we’re gonna need her and everyone else to be on if we wanna go far this season,” freshman guard Ashley Owusu said. “If we just keep continuing what we’re doing, we’ll be good.”