Crutchfield Offensive Foul vs. UNC-CH

Junior guard Kai Crutchfield commits an offensive foul by pushing off UNC-Chapel Hill guard Shayla Bennett on Thursday, Jan. 9 at Carmichael Arena. Crutchfield scored three points while Bennett totaled 20, leading the Tar Heels to a 66-60 win and giving the Wolfpack their first loss of the season.

CHAPEL HILL — It was bound to happen. There was little doubt the No. 9 NC State women’s basketball team would lose at least one game this season, and on Thursday night on the road in Chapel Hill, it happened, as the Wolfpack (14-1, 3-1 ACC) suffered its first loss of the season to North Carolina 66-60.

There’s never anything fun about losing, but with the first loss in the rearview mirror now, the Wolfpack has almost the entire ACC season left to continue building its NCAA Tournament resume.

Last season after the Pack won its first 21 games, NC State suffered its first loss at the hands of North Carolina and stumbled down the stretch. The Wolfpack went just 4-4 in the last eight games of ACC play last season, limping, figuratively and literally, into the ACC Tournament.

With its first loss out of the way nearly a month sooner, the Wolfpack can now shake off the first-loss jitters and prepare for a potentially long ACC run in a year where perennial conference powerhouses Louisville and Notre Dame aren’t quite on the dominant levels of years past.

“I told the team, ‘I want you to think about it tonight and feel it tonight; I want it to bother you,’” said NC State head coach Wes Moore. “I want all of us to look in the mirror, including the coaches, and see if there is something I can do or they can do to do a better job, but then tomorrow, we’ve got to move on.”

In just three days, NC State will travel to South Bend, Indiana, to take on the Fighting Irish, and in less than a week will see No. 11 Florida State arrive in Raleigh for a top-25 showdown and a potential resume-building win. If the Wolfpack doesn’t want a repeat of last year’s late-season faltering, it’s going to need to look forward and prepare for the ACC gauntlet as conference play ramps up.

“This league, it’s like being out in the ocean,” Moore said. “Here comes another wave. So you don’t really have time to catch your breath, you’ve got to get ready for the next one.”

Defending ACC champion Notre Dame is in a bit of a down year, but South Bend is never an easy place to play, and Fighting Irish head coach Muffet McGraw always has her players ready for a big game. With a ranked matchup against Florida State on the horizon, NC State can’t afford to look past Sunday.

“That’ll be a big challenge on the road in a tough environment,” Moore said.

NC State has one of its most talented teams in program history, and the ACC is there for the taking. But first it needs to move on and move forward, and that starts on Sunday against Notre Dame.