N.C. State guard Saniya Rivers had a pointed message to the women’s college basketball world at the ACC’s annual preseason media days in October.
“We’re definitely the underdogs right now,” Rivers said that day. “And you know what they say about underdogs: They come out swinging.”
The Wolfpack took an early punch from UConn on Sunday, and indeed came back swinging, eventually putting the No. 2 Huskies to the mat.
Junior Aziaha James sank two free throws in the waning seconds to send the red-clad crowd at Reynolds Coliseum into a raucous standing ovation as N.C. State (2-0) upset UConn (1-1), 92-81, on Sunday afternoon.
The Wolfpack overcame a nine-point deficit in the first quarter. The win is the Wolfpack’s first over the Huskies since March 22, 1998, and a major improvement over its 91-69 loss in 2022.
Here are three takeaways from the Wolfpack’s big upset.
Saniya Rivers dominates
Rivers is going to be a problem in ACC play, if her performance against UConn is any indication.
The junior took the reins and led the Wolfpack from start to finish. Beyond a career-high shooting performance — she finished with 33 points — Rivers contributed on the defensive end adding 10 rebounds and 5 assists.
With 5:47 in the second quarter, Rivers tied the game with a steal and layup on the fast break. Her two free throws with 2:17 left in the half gave N.C. State its first lead of the game.
As the team got deeper into the game, Rivers continued her impressive performance. She added a steal and assist with six minutes to go, which allowed James to put the Pack up 12.
Tack on her other defensive plays, and Rivers earned herself Player of the Game. It wouldn’t have accomplished the win without her.
The reigning ACC Sixth Man of the Year made an early bid for 2024 league awards for her impressive showing against the Huskies.
Rookie of the year loading
Freshman Zoe Brooks was the No. 9 recruit in the 2023 class for a reason.
She can create shots for herself, create shots for her teammates and possesses defensive toughness. All three areas shined in the team’s win against UConn, where Brooks impacted the Wolfpack on both ends of the floor.
Brooks shot the ball well — recording a new career in scoring — and found herself on the floor or flying through the air for 50/50 balls.
If she continues performing how she did in the first two games, she, too, has an opportunity to be among the top ACC players.
NC State has a lot to sell
Moore said at ACC media days that the Wolfpack program has a lot to sell. Its resume features three conference championships, big wins over major programs and a great culture.
It also wants to win a national championship.
The program exceeded a lot of expectations in its game against the Huskies. There are plenty of things to work on, especially defensively, but N.C. State played like a top 25 team.
Its effort was there. It forced multiple Huskies turnovers, drew fouls and powered through double teams the entire afternoon.
Even when the team was down by as many as nine points, N.C. State stayed composed under pressure in a game it wasn’t expected to lose.
“I think we all have the same goal. We want to win a national championship,” Madison Hayes said three weeks ago. “That’s what we came here to do.”
Hayes was right. The Wolfpack absolutely has something good brewing.