CHAPEL HILL — Showdowns between nationally ranked teams were once the norm when North Carolina took on N.C. State in women’s basketball.
Tonight at 6 at Carmichael Arena, the big game is back.
The major change is with the No. 20 Wolfpack (14-1, 1-0 ACC) under new coach Wes Moore. The team has started three seniors and two juniors in all 15 games and is playing like it’s hungry for its first NCAA Tournament bid in four years.
The No. 13 Tar Heels (12-3, 0-1), who brought in the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class and start four freshmen, have longtime assistant coach Andrew Calder running the sidelines as coach Sylvia Hatchell undergoes treatment for leukemia.
“Every ACC game is very difficult, and obviously it’s a rivalry game,” Calder said.“Wes is doing a tremendous job with a veteran team.
“We’re going to play hard. We’re going to compete and just try to get better. Our players are working extremely hard and we’ll continue to grow.”
Calder and Moore, who was the head coach at Chattanooga before taking the State job, are old golfing buddies.
“I know their staff well,” Moore said. “Sylvia and I both coached at Francis Marion. Andrew and I play golf. He’s definitely better than I am. He’s probably near scratch. Now that he’s head coach maybe he’s dropped a couple of strokes.
“But they’ve got some excitement going over there and we do too. So it’s two ranked teams, but I want to be in the last poll, not the one in January.”
There’s no hiding from this season’s Wolfpack team, which has 6-foot-5 senior center Markeisha Gatling (15.9, 6.3 rebs.) dominating the paint and fellow senior Kody Burke (14.3, 5.3) raining 3-pointers.
State came back to beat then-No. 20 Syracuse 67-61 in the Orange’s ACC debut on Sunday and beat then-No. 12 LSU by 10 points.
“Everyone talks about our seniors, and from us down to the walk-ons, everyone’s buying into the system,” said Wolfpack senior guard Myisha Goodwin-Coleman, who moved from point guard to shooting guard under Moore. “He came in and told us we had a new slate and a new beginning and now we’re 14-1. Why not?”
UNC, which was picked No. 4 in the conference in preseason, is all about the youngsters.
The Tar Heels have four averaging in double figures in freshmen Diamond DeShields (14.9, 4.7), Allisha Gray (14.2, 5.2), Stephanie Mavunga (13.8, 9.8) and sophomore Xylina McDaniel (12.4, 6.4). Freshman Jessica Washington (7.3, 1.9) is starting at the point.
“Every game in the ACC is good competition, but this one is going to be fun,” UNC junior guard Latifah Coleman said. “N.C. State is a special rivalry.
UNC lost to Tennessee at home and to Arizona State before falling 79-70 in its ACC opener against visiting No. 8 Maryland on Sunday.
State leads the series 51-45, but its last win against the Tar Heels was in Raleigh in 2011. The teams split that season and also the year before, with the Wolfpack getting its last win in Chapel Hill in 2010.
“We’ve got to take it one game at a time, look at UNC just like every other game and give it our all like we’ve been doing,” N.C. State junior guard Len’Nique Brown said. “But not beating any team is irritating to me, not just UNC. I haven’t beaten Miami either.”
The Tar Heels’ freshmen are experiencing the rivalry for the first time.
“We’re both in the same state, so we’ve got to show them whose state it is, kind of,” Mavunga said. “But we just have to handle business and play Carolina basketball.”