Rewritten: Written by AARON BEARD, a writer for AP Basketball.
Saniya Rivers was relentless on the offensive end throughout the entire day on Sunday. Her fellow players on the North Carolina State team followed her example, resulting in a surprising defeat of the second-ranked Connecticut team.
Rivers put up a career-high 33 points and also grabbed 10 rebounds while leading the offense to a dominant performance, leading the Wolfpack to a 92-81 victory over the Huskies. This marked the first time in over 25 years that the program has defeated the Huskies.
Rivers, a tall 6-foot-1 guard in her second year at UConn after transferring from South Carolina, utilized her height advantage to score over defenders, facilitate plays, and drive to the basket. She recorded five assists, three blocks, and three steals in 38 minutes, earning praise from UConn’s Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma who described her as the standout player of the game.
“I felt a strong sense of responsibility to be there for my teammates,” stated Rivers. “My focus was on contributing in any way possible, whether it be through scoring, defense, or making plays for my teammates.”
Aziaha James contributed 18 points for the Wolfpack (2-0), making a crucial 3-pointer from the corner that sparked a 11-0 run at the beginning of the fourth quarter to extend their 14-point advantage and establish dominance.
The Huskies (1-1) won against the Wolfpack in double overtime, in a game that was a rematch of an NCAA Elite Eight matchup from 2022. Despite being a No. 1 regional seed, N.C. State was unable to defeat the home team, fueled by a supportive crowd. This, coupled with Auriemma’s highly regarded program, attracted a lively and sold-out audience to Reynolds Coliseum.
The coach of the Wolfpack, Wes Moore, expressed that the game in 2022 will be a lasting memory for him. However, on Sunday, he was able to enjoy the moment as he watched his players celebrate with each other on the court after the game ended.
Paige Bueckers, a preseason All-American selected by the Associated Press, scored 27 points for UConn. Aaliyah Edwards also contributed 21 points. However, despite their efforts, the Wolfpack maintained a 56.8% shooting percentage after the first half and controlled the rebounding game with a score of 41-29.
“I believe that collecting rebounds requires a certain mindset, and our team has a strong mentality when it comes to rebounding because it requires a lot of effort,” Auriemma stated. “It’s not an easy task, and everyone needs to be actively involved in it.”
UConn: In their first game, the Huskies scored over 100 points against Dayton. This game also marked Bueckers’ return to the court after missing last season due to a knee injury suffered in the 2022 NCAA title game against South Carolina. She scored eight points in that game and showed her usual form as she led the offense in this game.
“I am currently working on regaining my conditioning and finding my rhythm in the game. I am also trying to get some playing time under my belt,” Bueckers stated. “But physically, I feel good and have no issues. I just need to improve.”
James had a personal record of 26 points in the first game against Charlotte, and Rivers’ outburst demonstrated that N.C. State’s revamped team has the potential for a strong 1-2 punch. Zoe Brooks, a McDonald’s All-American, also displayed her potential with 12 points.
Impressive for a team projected to place eighth in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
BEEN A WHILE
Since N.C. State’s last victory in 1998, UConn has won six consecutive meetings. This includes a regional final that sent the late Hall of Famer Kay Yow to the program’s only Final Four appearance.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, this was N.C. State’s first top-5 victory as an unranked team since December 2016. It also resulted in the most points given up by UConn in a game ending in regulation since February 2001, when they allowed 92 points to then-No. 3 Tennessee.
UConn’s upcoming game on Thursday will be against No. 14 ranked Maryland.
On Wednesday, the Elon team will play against the Wolfpack at N.C. State.
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