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Minnesota Lynx Sign C Elissa Cunane to Hardship Contract

The three-time All-American at NC State joins the Lynx as a replacement player.

Louisville v NC State Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

The Minnesota Lynx signed former NC State stand-out center Elissa Cunane to a hardship replacement contract on Tuesday afternoon.

Since her preseason release from the Seattle Storm, Cunane had been playing for Halcones de Xalapa of the LNBP (Mexico), where she averaged 16.2 points on 51.6/37.5/81.8 shooting splits, 8.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.0 steals and 0.7 blocks in 35.5 minutes per game across six contests.

Cunane was a three-time All-American, National Player of the Year semifinalist, two-time ACC Tournament MVP, three-time unanimous First Team All-ACC selection and three-time All-ACC Academic Team member at NC State, where she led the Wolfpack to three ACC Tournament championships.

The move comes after the team announced injury updates for starting point guard Moriah Jefferson — who sustained a left quadriceps strain during Sunday night’s home loss to the Los Angeles Sparks — and backup center Natalie Achonwa — who recently suffered a set-back in her recovery from a right hamstring strain suffered in the second game of the season.

Both are out indefinitely, per the Lynx. It is not clear at this time which player Cunane’s hardship contract is replacing, but given her position and the Lynx’s need for additional size inside, it may be a sign that Achonwa’s return is not imminent.

A three-and-a-half-year starter in Raleigh, Cunane is Top-10 all-time in Wolfpack women’s basketball history in career points (1,855, sixth), rebounds (986, fifth), free throws made (513, first), double-doubles (34, seventh), field goals made (648, ninth) and in blocks (114, eighth).

She averaged 14.8 points on 54.0/41.1/80.2 shooting splits, 7.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 0.9 blocks over 26.1 minutes per game in her 125-game career for NC State.

Her 41.1% career 3-point percentage is impressive given the sample of 112 3s, as is her smooth shooting motion at 6-foot-5. The Lynx desperately need more shooting (even if it’s not a player’s primary skill), which makes this addition a compelling one, especially if forward Damiris Dantas is unable to return in the coming games from a Lisfranc injury she suffered last season.

Where Cunane shines the brightest is as terrific post player who can put defenders in tough positions and draw fouls with the best of any WNBA prospect in the 2022 class, and possesses excellent touch around the rim. That touch stands out most when she finishes through contact.

There is no one better for her to learn from, even if it is a short stint with the team, than an all-time great like Sylvia Fowles.

At 6-foot-5, her rebounding will be important as well for a team that just lost as a result of giving up a game-winning put-back in the closing seconds of Sunday’s loss to the Sparks.

Given the workload Fowles and Jess Shepard have undertaken in Achonwa’s absence, combined with the recent struggles of replacement player Nina Milić, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cunane see game action as early as tomorrow night.

Cunane, the No. 17 pick of the 2022 WNBA Draft, joins guard Evina Westbrook as 2022 Seattle Storm draft selections who are now members of the Lynx.

Next up for the Lynx is a road matchup with the up-and-coming Atlanta Dream. Fans can watch the game on Bally Sports North Extra at 6 PM CT.