North Carolina's Deja Kelly attempts a layup during a Jan. 21 game with Virginia. Women's college teams like UNC, NC State, and UNC Charlotte have made it a golden time to be a fan in North Carolina. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown) UNC Women's Basketball
North Carolina's Deja Kelly attempts a layup during a Jan. 21 game with Virginia. Women's college teams like UNC, NC State, and UNC Charlotte have made it a golden time to be a fan in North Carolina. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

As the Wolfpack and Tar Heel women compete for Sweet 16 spots Monday, a reminder that the women’s game in North Carolina is a jewel.

Feb. 1, 2021. 

NC State Women’s Basketball teetered on the edge of history. They’d punished unbeaten Louisville — the nation’s top-ranked team — for three quarters in the paint but the Cardinals were rallying. 

Elissa Cunane, the Wolfpack’s imposing star center, put an end to all that with about a minute left, catching the ball in the low post and bullying her way to a basket over two defenders. 

And just like that, NC State’s rejuvenated women’s basketball team did something no other women’s college team had done, beating two top-ranked teams on the road in one season and touching off a streak of excellence that’s continued into the team’s dominating run this season. They are the nation’s top-ranked team heading into today’s second round matchup, a title contender in every respect. 

The victory over Louisville was a game-changer for NC State. It was historic. But the women’s game almost never commands the same attention as the men, so it’s possible many North Carolina sports fans don’t have a clue. 

Let’s change that. It is a fantastic time to be a fan of the women’s game in North Carolina. 

The Wolfpack isn’t the only great women’s team. Three North Carolina teams, including the Pack, surged into the NCAA Tournament this year. UNC Charlotte dominated their conference and earned a 14th seed, their third appearance all-time in the tournament. 

And the decorated UNC-Chapel Hill women’s team, which went undefeated for the first 13 games of the season, landed a 5 seed. Duke Women’s Basketball didn’t fare as well this year, but they’re often a juggernaut too. 

All this to say: Yes, college basketball is king in North Carolina. But don’t for a minute think it’s just about the men. 

Both the Wolfpack and the Tar Heels play for a trip to the Sweet 16 Monday. NC State faces Kansas State at 4 pm. UNC plays Arizona at 10 pm. Catch the Wolfpack on ESPN and the Tar Heels on ESPN2.