Saniya Rivers circled back toward the Wolfpack bench with an eight-point lead inside the final two minutes, keeping a melodic dribble alive as she looked to salt away a stunning upset over No. 2 UConn Sunday afternoon.
"M-V-P" chants began to rise from the raucous Reynolds Coliseum for Rivers and her remarkable double-double — she finished with 33 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, three steals and three blocks — but the junior remained remarkably present, blowing past an overzealous Husky defender, gliding untouched for two and adding to her already lofty point total.
NC State shot 53 percent from the field, knocked down 22 free throws and led UConn for the entire final 15 minutes to secure a 92-81 victory Sunday, its first over UConn since 1998.
After losing their top four scorers a year ago, voters elected to keep NC State just outside of the AP Top 25, — a source of vocal discontent for the Wolfpack roster — and this volatility seemed to impact the Wolfpack early as they fell behind 13-6 inside the first five minutes. Madison Hayes would promptly knock down the Pack's only triple of the opening quarter, but after a pair of Mimi Collins free throws narrowed the deficit to two, a 9-2 UConn spurt grew the Husky lead back near double-digits to close the frame.
The Wolfpack fightback began with the brilliance of Zoe Collins, who exited the huddle and immediately cashed in six points, and was fueled by stingy defending and a deafening home crowd — Reynolds Coliseum peaked at 115 dB during NC State's second-quarter surge — as who else but Saniya Rivers managed to give her squad its first lead just two minutes before halftime.
Ultimately taking a one-point lead into the locker room, UConn remained closely attached with surging NC State through most of the third quarter, but more magic from the Pack's back-court saw Brooks and Collins combine again for a 7-0 run to inflate NC State's lead.
Aaliyah Edwards, who excelled for UConn in the post with 21 points and a generally stuffed stat sheet, scored down low to bring the game within three early in the final frame, but NC State again relied on its defense to fuel another crucial, this time decisive, run to seal the game.
The tenacious Wolfpack defense forced four turnovers in as many minutes, springing a 12-0 run that gave the home squad a 75-61 lead with fewer than six minutes remaining. UConn fought valiantly — Paige Bueckers, who led the Huskies with 25 points, knocked in a pair of high-difficulty attempts late on — but NC State wouldn't allow the visitors within eight, cruising to a monumental victory.