RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Elissa Cunane is a fan and student of the game of basketball and the North Carolina State star said she was up until midnight Saturday watching NCAA Tournament action.
“You can always learn from other players and different matchups that happened,” Cunane said. “I try to watch as much basketball as possible.”
Cunane didn’t see Kansas State’s Ayoka Lee’s Division I record-setting performance when Lee scored 61 points in a win over Oklahoma in January, but the Wolfpack senior plans to watch it ahead of No. 1 N.C. State’s rematch with the No. 9 Wildcats in the Round of 32 on Monday.
“We have the clips ready,” Cunane said.
The matchup will pit post players Cunane and Lee – two AP All-America selections – against each other for the second time this season in Reynolds Coliseum.
For N.C. State coach Wes Moore, the focus again is on the 6-foot-6 Lee and making sure she doesn’t break any records against a Wolfpack team eyeing its fourth straight trip to the Sweet 16.
“It’s all centered around Lee. And trying to slow her down obviously is a big challenge,” Moore said. “We prepare three or four different ways to defend her, and you would love to just have to use one of them.”
While Moore has his team keying on Lee, Kansas State coach Jeff Mittie has the 6-foot-5 Cunane at the top of his scouting report.
“She’s a physical defender, a smart defender, competitive, knows how to play people, and certainly has the physical gifts,” Mittie said. “They’ve got the ability to run offense through her because she’s such a good passer.”
The Wolfpack have already successfully stifled Lee once this season. Lee scored 19 points as N.C. State won 90-69 on Nov. 19, 2021, which Moore said “seems like a few years ago,” while Mittie called it “a lifetime ago.” Lee finished with close to her scoring average (22.4) in that first meeting, but she struggled to get touches – and score – until the fourth quarter when the Wolfpack comfortably led by double digits. Before scoring nine points on 4-of-6 shooting in the final period, Lee had just 10 points on 5-of-12 shooting in the game’s first 30 minutes.
Cunane tallied 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting to go along with six rebounds and two steals in that game and had only one turnover.
“I think she’s a great player,” Lee said. “N.C. State is a great team. We have a lot of respect for them.”
YOUTH VS. VETERANS
Kansas State doesn’t start any seniors, and three of its guards are freshmen — Serena Sundell and twins Jaelyn and Brylee Glenn. Each hails from Missouri and played on the same AAU team.
N.C. State’s starting guards are a pair of fifth-year seniors — Raina Perez and Kai Crutchfield. This is the fifth NCAA Tournament Crutchfield has played in and the second for Perez.
“It’s a big stage,” Sundell said. “Obviously, we’re the underdogs, but I think we really don’t have a lot of fear going into this game because it’s just a huge opportunity.”
In the last meeting between the teams, Sundell had 21 points on 5-of-11 shooting from 3-point range.
SIZE A PLUS FOR K-STATE
Lee is one inch taller than Cunane, and Kansas State has a size advantage in the backcourt, too. Each of its guards stands 6-foot or taller.
For N.C. State, Perez is 5-4, Crutchfield is 5-9, and Atlantic Coast Conference Sixth Player of the Year Diamond Johnson is 5-5.
Johnson isn’t too worried.
“I’ve basically been playing against taller guards my whole life,” said Johnson, second on the Wolfpack in scoring at 10.9 points per game. “But it’s definitely a challenge. They’re longer, lanky. But I do have the quickness to get a step ahead. Playing against taller guards makes me better, makes me focus on my shot more, creating space more.”
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