NO. 1 SOUTH CAROLINA at NO. 5 N.C. STATE
5 p.m. Tuesday
Reynolds Coliseum, Raleigh
Players to watch
South Carolina (2020-21 averages): F Aliyah Boston, 6-5, junior, 13.7 ppg, 11.5 rpg; C Kamilla Cardoso, 6-7, sophomore (Syracuse transfer), 13.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 2.7 bpg; G Zia Cooke, 5-9, junior, 15.9 ppg, 3.0 apg; G Destanni Henderson, 5-7, senior, 12.2 ppg, 5.1 apg, 4.7 rpg.
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N.C. State (2020-21 averages): C Elissa Cunane, 6-5, senior (Northern Guilford HS), 16.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg; F Jakia Brown-Turner, 6-0, junior, 13.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg; G Diamond Johnson, 5-5, sophomore (Rutgers transfer), 17.6 ppg, 2.5 apg; G Kai Grutchfield, 5-8, graduate, 8.0 ppg, 1.2 spg.
Three things to know
1. This game could define N.C. State's season. The Wolfpack had momentum after last season's win at South Carolina and rode it to the ACC Tournament title, a NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen appearance and a 22-3 record. There are plenty of big games after this one (Maryland in the Bahamas on Nov. 25 jumps out in the non-conference schedule), but this is a chance to make a statement in the opener with an ESPN audience watching.
2. This South Carolina team might be even better than last season's squad. The Gamecocks went 26-5 in 2020-21 and reached the Final Four before losing to eventual NCAA champion Stanford, 66-65. They're all back, with three players ranked among the top 25 in the country by an ESPN media panel (No. 3 Boston, No. 14 Cooke, and No. 24 Henderson). They've also added the nation's top-ranked transfer (Cardoso) and the nation's top-ranked recruiting class.
3. The Pack will need a big game from Elissa Cunane. The former Northern Guilford standout comes into her senior season as the coaches' selection for ACC Player of the Year. The 6-foot-5 center will be going up against a South Carolina team that features 6-5 Boston and 6-7 Cardoso and brings 6-2 senior Victaria Saxton off the bench. With 6-2 Jada Boyd (hand) sidelined and 6-1 Kayla Jones still not close to 100 percent healthy after knee surgery, Cunane will be mostly going it alone in the post and will need to avoid foul trouble. Her ability to find the Pack's sharpshooters beyond the 3-point arc when she is double- or triple-teamed will be key.
N.C. State knocked off then-No. 1 South Carolina 54-46 on Dec. 3, 2020, in Columbia, S.C. Kayla Jones led the Pack with 16 points and 12 rebounds, Elissa Cunane had 14 points and six rebounds and Jakia Brown-Turner added 11 points and 12 rebounds. Neither team shot better than 29 percent from the field.