February 6, 2021 

ACC notes: N.C. State is a Final Four contender, Maya Dodson to Notre Dame

For the second time this season, N.C. State beat the No. 1 team

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Quotables from No. 4 N.C. State’s 74-60 win over No. 1 Louisville

N.C. State center Elissa Cunane: “We were ready for this moment. We knew going on the road play the No. 1 team was going to be hard, but we know that we did it before.”

Louisville head coach Jeff Walz: “We struggled offensively. There’s no question about that. (We) had some really good looks but just couldn’t knock some of them down.”

N.C. State guard Raina Perez: “Just being there in the gap, (Evans) is definitely a good player. I know why she’s at the top of the ACC, top of the nation, but it was different and good going up against her, just seeing that I could compete and just seeing that I could stay with her… I mean, that’s why I came here to N.C. State – to play in these big games, to compete against the best and, like Elissa was saying, if you want to be the best, you got to beat the best and they were number one. And so, we did what we had to do, and I’m excited to be here.”

N.C. State head coach Wes Moore: “We want to work inside-out, and a lot of that’s based on Elissa’s talent. But that’s just the way I’ve always felt like you should play the game. We want four guards that can shoot the three and that can take you off the bounce if we spread you out… Elissa does give us confidence.”

The takeaway from the Wolfpack’s win

Elissa Cunane takes a free throw against Louisville on Feb. 13, 2020 at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, N.C. (Mitchell Northam / The Next)

The difference between Louisville and N.C. State last Monday night was that one side had to lean heavily on its Player of the Year candidate while the other played like a true team and let its star pick her spots.

Dana Evans was incredible, scoring 29 points for the Cardinals, but none of her teammates cracked double-digits in scoring. And Evans had to work for those points too, needing 22 shots to reach her total. Liz Dixon and Olivia Cochran were fine in the paint, combining for 10 points, 16 rebounds and six blocks, but it wasn’t enough and they didn’t slow down Elissa Cunane.

In her first game back in 29 days, the junior center for N.C. State racked up 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting to go along with six rebounds and two assists in 30 minutes. Jakia Brown-Turner, Raina Perez and Jada Boyd all scored in double-digits, too, combining for 47 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and six steals.

The other key was this: N.C. State was perfect from the free throw line, shooting 12-for-12.

When Cunane is on the floor for the Wolfpack, they’re a Final Four contender. When she’s not, N.C. State can be beaten by solid teams like Virginia Tech.

Cunane has been an efficient and reliable scorer this season. According to Her Hoop Stats, she’s scoring 1.18 points per play, a mark that ranks 14th in the nation. She’s shooting 61.3% from inside the arc and 50% outside of it. Her PER rating of 36.4 is 18th-best in the country, and her mark of 0.38 offensive win shares per 40 minutes is seventh-best. Her individual offensive rating of 129.9 is 23rd-best in the country, and Cunane’s 16.2 points per game are fifth-best in the ACC.

This is all to say: Elissa Cunane is a damn good basketball player. When she’s on the floor, defenses have to focus on her. She changes things drastically for N.C. State.

With Cunane, N.C. State has now beaten two No. 1 teams this season, taking down both Louisville and South Carolina on the road. The last two teams to beat two No. 1s in the same season were Maryland in 2005-06 and Stanford in 2007-08. That’s pretty good company for Wes Moore’s side, considering the Terps won it all that year and Stanford appeared in the national championship game. N.C. State is just the third team to beat two No. 1s in the same season in the last 20 years. Time will tell if they can join those Maryland and Stanford teams of the past in making the national championship game.

But with a healthy All-American center, their chances seem pretty good.

Notre Dame adds Stanford’s Maya Dodson

The Fighting Irish are going to be loaded next season.

On paper, Niele Ivey’s squad should be one of the most talented in the ACC. They were already set to return stellar players like Maddy Westbeld, Dara Mabrey, Anaya Peoples and Sam Brunelle, and then add one of the top recruiting classes in the country led by a pair of five-star prospects in Olivia Miles and Sonia Citron. Miles has already enrolled early, and made her debut last week in a loss to Syracuse, tallying four points, three steals, two assists and two rebounds in 14 minutes of play.

Notre Dame got another boost to their 2021-22 roster this past week though, when the Irish announced that Stanford’s Maya Dodson is transferring to the school in South Bend. Dodson signed her National Letter of Intent on Tuesday and has at least one year of eligibility remaining. She opted out of her senior season with the Cardinal.

“She is a program changer and the perfect fit for the culture that I am cultivating,” Ivey said of Dodson in a statement. “She is highly driven with an incredible skillset and work ethic. She brings great experience and leadership to a very young and talented core. I can’t wait to get to work with her.”

In three seasons with the Cardinal, Dodson quickly moved her way into the Stanford record books. She leaves the program ranking in the top 10 of blocked shots in a career (78) and field goal percentage (49.7%).

A 6’3 forward from Alpharetta, Georgia – a suburb just north of Atlanta – Dodson was the 11th best recruit in the 2017 class, according to ESPN, and chose Stanford over Notre Dame, Tennessee and other top programs. A product of St. Francis High School, she was tabbed as an All-American by McDonald’s, the Jordan Brand Classic and the WBCA. Dodson also captained the U.S. U17 team to a bronze medal in the FIBA World Championships in 2016.

Despite missing parts of her sophomore and junior seasons with a left foot injury, Dodson was a key rotation player for the Cardinal, playing an average of 15.9 minutes per game over 68 appearances, 24 of which were starts. Dodson was typically serviceable in postseason games too, averaging about four points, four rebounds, a block and an assist per game across 16 Pac-12 and NCAA Tournament games. She had four points, four blocks and six rebounds in Stanford’s Pac-12 championship win over Oregon in 2019.

The addition of Dodson gives Notre Dame a veteran post player who can protect the rim, rebound and make plays in the paint. The challenge for Ivey will be finding minutes for Dodson in a stacked rotation.

ACC extras

UNC forward Janelle Bailey takes a shot over Wake Forest defenders on Dec. 10, 2020 in Winston-Salem, N.C. (Mitchell Northam / The Next)
  • I asked Elissa Cunane what it was like being in COVID protocol for the last month, and how good it felt to beat the top team in her first game back. Here’s what she said: “It was pretty tough. When we first went on hold, everyone’s like, ‘Whoa. It’s hitting home now.’ You know, we were doing pretty good. And so, going into that I just had to be grateful for every moment. Like, as soon as I was able to come back, you know, just the little things. And I think being grateful for all of that and knowing that it can be taken away in an instant, it really makes you like want to play hard and go the extra mile because you know that tomorrow is not promised or next game isn’t promised. So, you have to give everything you got every single time you step on that court.”

  • Louisville bounced back from its loss to N.C. State by beating Boston College 97-68 on Thursday. More impressive than the final score is that the Cardinals pulled off the victory without starter Elizabeth Balogun, who was with the Nigerian national team for a four-day camp.

  • In its loss on Thursday to Florida State, UNC had its lowest scoring output of the season, totaling just 51 points. Despite Janelle Bailey’s double-double of 10 points and 10 boards, the Tar Heels fell to 8-8 on the season and 3-8 in ACC play.

  • Pitt head coach Lance White said this after the Panthers lost 74-55 to Virginia Tech on Thursday: “Obviously, I am disappointed in the way that we approached this game. Virginia Tech is a team that we played really well the first time for three quarters and then to start the way we did, it once again shows our discipline, mentality, and that we’re just not there yet. I thought overall we battled back, but then we can’t make the plays that we need to down the stretch to be competitive.”

  • Duke has formally announced the addition of Louisville transfer Nyah Green, a former McDonald’s All-American. The former five-star prospect will be on Duke’s campus this spring and has four years of eligibility remaining. Blue Devils head coach Kara Lawson said in a statement: “We are thrilled to have Nyah join the Duke family. She is a young woman who is focused on achieving at the highest levels both academically and athletically. Nyah brings a high level of skill and versatility to our team. Our staff can’t wait to get on the court and work with her.”

  • Former Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie has a new book coming out on Feb. 16 titled Secret Warrior about her personal battle with bipolar disorder. Asked by the Portland Press if she’ll coach again, she said: “That’s wide open, really. It’s hard to know what the future brings. But I can say this: I’ll always be Coach P for life.”

  • This will be the first time in 45 years that Duke and North Carolina haven’t faced each other at least once in women’s basketball. The men’s teams from the Tobacco Road schools meet Saturday.

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Written by Mitchell Northam

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