Propelled by history, classic Reynolds crowd, NC State women upset No. 2 UConn

Revenge may be best served cold, but this was frozen over, trapped in a block of ice like some poor woolly mammoth who wandered into a Siberian lake and remained there for eons.

There wasn’t a single N.C. State player left from the epic Elite 8 showdown-slash-travesty in Bridgeport two seasons ago, but Wes Moore hadn’t forgotten. Connecticut hadn’t forgotten. Reynolds Coliseum certainly hadn’t forgotten.

Propelled by a crowd packed to the corners of the old barn, the Wolfpack pulled back a nine-point UConn lead before halftime and outdid the Huskies shot-for-shot in the third quarter, leading by as many as seven, then going on an 11-0 run early in the fourth quarter to all but put the game away.

The power inherent in this building when it’s like this, even with its face-lift, is incomparable. Within these old walls, in these tight quarters, amid the din, the Wolfpack showed anything was still possible, even beating the Huskies for the first time since 1998 after losing six straight over the intervening 25 years, even getting revenge for a game the players would know only as recruits or players at other programs.

Geno Auriemma watched the last two minutes with his arms crossed, face grim, consigned to his fate. He knew as well as anyone that this N.C. State performance, this atmosphere, this passion, this 92-81 Wolfpack win, was 21 months in the making.

There’s no way to replicate the stakes from that March 2022 game, when the top-seeded Wolfpack was forced to play the Huskies on a virtual home court. (Literally: UConn’s logo was on the floor in Bridgeport!) The entire N.C. State roster has moved on since then, most of it immediately after that game, the last gasp of a group that accomplished everything short of a Final Four.

What’s done is done. But to borrow from a famous Ole Miss fan, the past is not always past.

Moore joked afterward that it ought to count as UConn’s home game in the home-and-home the two schools had already agreed to play over the next two seasons, and when the return game finally came to Raleigh, many of the faces had changed. But not all of them.

There were still five UConn players left from that night, including a trio of familiar names that accounted for 56 of the Huskies’ 91 points in that game: Aaliyah Edwards. Paige Bueckers. Azzi Fudd. The closest the Wolfpack came? Now an N.C. State guard, Saniya Rivers played five minutes for South Carolina two games later as the Gamecocks claimed the national title over the Huskies. Sunday, she had a game-high 33 points.

All of which is to say that for most of the people on the court Sunday, what happened two years ago was ancient history. But history has a way of coming back to life, especially in Reynolds, and by the end of the second quarter the slumbering old ghosts up in the girders were fully awake.

The moment was delayed, perhaps, but the N.C. State home crowd showed why the NCAA really did the Wolfpack such a disservice in 2022, pulling and dragging the Wolfpack along the same way the pro-UConn crowd had done through two overtimes at the allegedly neutral site N.C. State had secured as the No. 1 seed. The NCAA was happy to put competitive balance aside when it sent the Wolfpack there, knowing it would be full of UConn fans and happy to collect their dollars.

Because the growth of the game and the rise of South Carolina as a persistent preeminent powerhouse may have diluted UConn’s perennial basketball dominance, the brand remains as strong as ever. There were UConn legends everywhere you looked, and not just on the bench or on the court. With the USA Women’s National Team scrimmaging Duke, DIana Taurasi sat on one baseline. Rebecca Lobo was calling the game for ABC. You can’t escape. It’s part of what made 2022 such a gross inequity.

This very different, younger, less accomplished, still uncertain of itself N.C. State team didn’t stand much of a chance on paper, a 10-point underdog. After a rebuilding year that saw the Wolfpack relinquish its position at the top of the Triangle basketball pyramid, this N.C. State team was pulled along by history it might not understand, pushing forward into a future that suddenly overflows with promise.

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