WBB vs Louisville ACC Final 6

N.C. State's Elissa Cunane (33) shoots as Louisville's Dana Evans (1) defends during first half of N.C. State’s game with Louisville in the finals of the ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Sunday, March 7, 2021.

One year removed from winning its first ACC Championship in 29 years, junior center Elissa Cunane’s historic 70 points through three games clinched a back-to-back title for the Wolfpack women’s basketball team.

Cunane’s legendary performance gave her the ACC Tournament MVP award along with a selection for the All-Tournament First Team alongside senior guard Kai Crutchfield. In three games, Cunane averaged 23.3 points and nine rebounds per game while hitting 25 of 40 shots, a 62.5% clip.

“Coming off last year's win, we knew it took literally everything in us,” Cunane said. “So after last season ended, we knew we still had more fight in us. Coming back to Greensboro, stepping on this court, I told the team before the game, ‘This is our court now. We have to defend this court’...For our team to stick together to pull it out, and honestly shout out to the ACC for our season being here and for there being a tournament. We had fans in the stadium. I'm just really grateful for this moment, and winning makes it even better.”

Winning the ACC Tournament MVP award comes one year off the heels of former Wolfpack star Aislinn Konig winning the same honor. Konig graduated from the program as a champion, leaving a lasting impact on the team as evidenced by a second straight title.

“Ace [Konig] is one of my best friends, so it's huge,” Cunane said. “She's winning championships in Switzerland. To follow in her footsteps and just like the legacy she created, the way she left this team, it's huge. I can only thank my teammates and coaches. I wouldn't be here without them.”

Hailing from Summerfield, North Carolina, it’s a surreal experience for Cunane to be able to play such high-level basketball just minutes away from her hometown. Cunane got the full home town experience after getting to play against her longtime friends Elizabeth Kitley and Cayla King in the Pack’s first game of the tournament against Virginia Tech.

Head coach Wes Moore originally recruited Cunane to the Wolfpack during the 2017-18 season after the four-star recruit led her team to a 31-1 record and state championship.

“Yeah, you know, she always jokes about when I was recruiting her...she gives me a hard time about my Southern twang,” Moore said. “She really is, she's the centerpiece...Elissa is a special player. Again, we ride her pretty hard, and she just finds a way to get it done. They gave a lot of attention to her… She doesn't hang her head or she doesn't doubt herself. The girl has got a lot of confidence. I think because of that, our team has a lot of confidence.”

Cunane led NC State in scoring across the season with averages of 16.6 points and 8.1 rebounds while shooting a split of 56.9% from the field, 43.5% from 3-point land and 86.5% on free throws. Cunane was one of two Wolfpack players to be named as a unanimous All-ACC First-Team selection, joining sophomore wing Jakia Brown-Turner.

“We are really excited about Elissa,” Moore said when he originally recruited the center. “First of all, her size and athleticism are things that we really need. She plays harder than any 6-5 kid I have ever seen. That is exciting. She is going to set a tone and lead with her effort...She is an all-around great player and great person, and we are excited to have her join the Wolfpack."

That was an understatement.

In her three years at NC State, Cunane has made the ACC Tournament semifinals once, and outright won the tournament in her past two years. That body of work is simply unmatched, and she downright carried the Wolfpack late in the fourth quarters of all three tournament games.

For context, Cunane scored 27 of her 70 tournament points in the fourth quarter, with many of those coming within the last five minutes.

“The best is yet to come,” Cunane said. “I don't feel like we've played our best game yet, so hopefully it comes out in the NCAA Tournament.”

Without Cunane, this team would still be searching for its first ACC title in over 30 years. With Cunane, however, women’s basketball has established a lasting culture not only for the program, but the entire athletics department at NC State.

“It's really great for our program, obviously, trying to break through in there,” Moore said. “I had somebody tell me a few years ago when I first got here, ‘There's a pecking order in women's basketball, and you'll never change that.’ Well, you're right, I didn't, but we've got some players that are trying to change that.”

Managing Editor

I'm Tristan Tucker, managing editor in the class of 2022 studying Communication Media and Statistics. I joined Technician in Fall 2018 and am a credentialed NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and SB Nation.