Stephanie Mavunga continued her string of dynamic games as the No. 9 UNC women’s basketball team defeated rival North Carolina State in their ACC opener Sunday afternoon, 72-56, at Carmichael Arena. The Tar Heels now boast a 14-1 record with the win and the Wolfpack have fallen to 9-5.
With the absence of junior forward and All-ACC preseason selection Xylina McDaniel, UNC head coach Sylvia Hatchell was concerned she had lost some fire in her front court.
“(Later in the season) you’ll probably see us do some different things because we’re still adjusting to Xylina not being out there. Just her physical presence, she’s strong and defensively she’s pretty tough out there so we’re still adjusting.”
However, since McDaniel’s unfortunate and likely season-ending lower leg injury, Mavunga has quickly stepped in place to boast career-high stats in the past two games, with a little help from her partner in the post.
“In the game two days ago, Xylina said to me ‘I’m watching you, I’m watching you more than anybody else.’ And I just froze. So she gets on me when I’m frustrated and she gives me pointers on things she sees in my game that I may not see. Even just helping me with moves, she’s a phenomenal post player. An All-American type player so I listen to her – she knows what she’s talking about.”
McDaniel’s tips have proven to pay off so far. In last game’s blowout victory over East Tennessee State, Mavunga posted a career-high 26 points on nearly perfect shooting from the floor with 93 percent accuracy. And against the Wolfpack, she was still rolling. Mavunga finished with a full stat line – 23 points, 12 rebounds, 4 blocks and a career-high 5 assists.
UNC was assisted on the scoring boards by impressive performances by both Allisha Gray with 13 points and 12 rebounds, her 4th double-double of the season as well as senior Brittany Rountree, who netted 14 points on 4-6 three point shooting.
The Wolfpack suffered from foul trouble early in the first half, but continued to play a gritty match that slowed UNC’s ability to stretch their lead. After three fouls and only two points in the first 20 minutes of play, NC State redshirt sophomore Domonique Wilson came back to score 13 points in the second half alone. Sophomore Miah Spencer and senior Len’Nique Brown-Hoskin each added 11 for the Pack.
NC State head coach Wes Moore says Sunday’s loss gives his team a taste of what to expect from the ACC’s list of heavy-hitting women’s basketball teams this season. In the match, North Carolina led by as many as 27 points.
“We’ll have to combat (them) with a competitive fire,” Moore said. “I hate to say this but I grew up in Texas, and we say down there it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. We’re just going to have to compete, maybe work on some defenses that mix it up a bit.”
UNC also undoubtedly honored Tar Heel alumnus and sportscaster Stuart Scott with a moment of silence at the beginning of the contest. Scott passed away Sunday morning from a lengthy battle with cancer.
Next up for North Carolina is a road trip to Pittsburgh to face the Panthers Thursday at 7:00 p.m.