For Taylor Koenen, the Minnesota connections run deep.
The North Carolina women's basketball guard was born and raised in the North Star State, having grown up in the Minneapolis suburb of Savage, Minn. She was named the 2016 Gatorade Minnesota Player of the Year and played for multiple years on both the Minnesota Stars and the Minnesota Fury development teams.
So when Minnesota’s women’s basketball team (7-1) visited Carmichael Arena on Wednesday afternoon, it almost felt like a homecoming for the sophomore.
“I knew some of the girls on the team,” Koenen said after the game. “But anybody wants to beat their hometown team.”
She certainly looked right at home the whole time, going 9-13 from the field and playing every minute in an eventual 88-83 UNC victory.
“It was a good win,” she said. “I know they’ve been playing well, but we played really well as a team tonight and that showed.”
The evening got off to a fast start, as the two teams combined for five three pointers within the first five minutes of game time. The rest of the first quarter continued to be back and forth, with Janelle Bailey and Jamie Cherry putting up eight points each for the Tar Heels while Kenisha Bell put up nine for Minnesota. Seven unanswered points to end the quarter gave UNC a 31-26 lead going into the second period.
North Carolina was able to stretch that advantage before halftime, as the team’s defense stepped up to hold the Golden Gophers to just 10 points in the second quarter. Six points from Koenen and four from Naomi Van Nes made it a 44-36 game at the half.
Minnesota, however, wouldn’t go quietly. The Gophers got hot from behind the arc again early in the second half as three consecutive three-pointers quickly cut UNC’s lead to three. Carlie Wagner finished the quarter with 14 points for Minnesota as the game entered its final period with the Tar Heels holding on to a slim 68-64 lead.
In the end, despite coming as close behind as three points in the final quarter, the Gophers were unable to complete the comeback, and they fell for the first time this season.
For the Tar Heels, it was a morale-boosting win that brought them to 4-2 on the season following two tight losses to South Alabama and Hampton in the last couple weeks. Koenen led the team with a career-high 21 points, while Cherry followed close behind with 19.
Koenen credited her teammates for her stellar performance.
“My teammates did a really good job looking for me and just getting into the flow of the game was huge," she said. "They play fast up and down, so it was easy for us to keep the flow, so the quarter really flew by and that was nice.”
To make the night even better for Koenen, her family was in the building to watch her play her best game of the year.
“I think her dad flew his whole staff in from Minnesota, and took them to Pinehurst number two,” head coach Sylvia Hatchell said after the game. “So it’s been a good day for her family.”
Koenen and her teammates have no time to rest on their laurels, however, as they have a quick turnaround before playing again on Friday afternoon against Hartford.