Kea’s second 3-point shot of the game with less than five minutes left in the second quarter cut down the Bulls' lead to 31-28. But the Tar Heels' offense went downhill from there, as Maria Jesperson nailed a 3-pointer for South Florida to go into halftime with a 39-30 advantage.
The Tar Heels never got closer than five points in the second half as the Bulls breezed through to earn a spot in the championship game.
Kea was the top scorer for the Tar Heels with 20 points, while sophomore Stephanie Watts earned her 14th double-digit scoring game in a row with 13 points.
A consolation matchup against Minnesota (4-2) on Friday offered UNC a chance at redemption, and the Tar Heels delivered behind continued domination from Kea, who tallied a career-high 32 points on 14-for-22 shooting.
The game was an even battle on both sides, with 18 lead changes and 11 ties.
After scoring 17 points in the first 20 minutes against the Bulls the night before, Kea started off strong once again with 13 points in the first half against the Golden Gophers.
The Tar Heels were tied at halftime and trailed by one point at the start of the fourth quarter, but UNC saved its strongest play for the fourth quarter.
North Carolina scored 34 points in the final quarter, sealing the victory with a 13-0 run to turn a two-point deficit into an 11-point lead.
Along with Kea’s performance, Watts and Cherry tallied double-doubles. Watts was the second-leading scorer with 21 points and 11 rebounds, even after she exited the game for a period of time with a hyperextended thumb on her shooting hand. Cherry followed close behind Watts with 17 points and 12 assists, and sophomore Destinee Walker tacked on 15 points.
Kea and Watts have both scored in double figures throughout all six games so far this season, showing promise for a team that continues to grow.
“We are going to continue getting better and better,” Coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “We are going to sputter at times, but the future of this team is really exciting.”