Even though the members of the North Carolina women’s basketball team did not spend Thanksgiving with their families at home, they were thankful to spend the holiday weekend playing basketball in Cancun with one another.
The No. 11 Tar Heels played three games in three days in the Cancun Challenge at the Hard Rock Hotel. They earned two blowout wins, defeating Arkansas State 93-60 on Thursday and downing Illinois 87-51 on Saturday.
Despite a late second half lead in the matchup with Arizona State on Friday, the Tar Heels came up short 94-81 in overtime for their only loss of the tournament.
“It was different because that was the first Thanksgiving that I haven’t spent at home with my family,” said freshman forward Stephanie Mavunga. “But I don’t think it was really that much different because I was with my other family here—my second family. I love the girls. And getting to play basketball is something I always love doing.”
Freshman guard Diamond DeShields said the weekend was all about a growing experience for the entire team, as the Tar Heels focused on getting everyone involved and developing stronger communication.
“This was a difficult tournament for us but we had a lot of people contributing,” said associate head coach Andrew Calder. “And that helped us through the back-to-back games.”
Mavunga cited failures in communication as being one of the main reasons — in addition to missed rebounds and free throws — that North Carolina could not overcome Arizona State in overtime.
After UNC missed two late free throws, the Sun Devils added a buzzer-beating layup to force overtime, where they outscored the Tar Heels 17-4.
“Honestly, I feel like they just wanted it more than we did,” DeShields said. “We’re a talented team but hard work beats talent all day. And they just outworked us in that overtime game.”