So quick, so instinctive — Stephanie Mavunga just couldn’t help herself. But that pull on a Notre Dame jersey sealed the 89-79 loss for the No. 12 North Carolina women’s basketball team.
“We’re extremely disappointed,” said Coach Sylvia Hatchell. “About all I can say.”
With 8:43 left in the second half, UNC trailed No. 7 Notre Dame 71-62. Sophomore Allisha Gray, who missed most of the first half with an upper calf injury, drove hard to the left side of the basket.
But Mavunga was waiting, ready to scoop up the loose ball. She went up for the layup from right beneath the rim.
Somehow she held onto the ball. The put-back?
This time she lost control, on and off the court. The ball slipped off Mavunga’s fingers and bounced toward the baseline. A Notre Dame player grabbed the rebound, Mavunga pulled the back of her numbers and a whistle blew.
Then, Carmichael Arena fell apart.
Boos rained down from the stand. Hatchell, red in the face and shaking, stomped all the way to midcourt, jawing with every official along the way.
“It is what it is,” she said.
While a soap opera was unfolding with Hatchell, Mavunga was a different story. She knew, as soon as she had done it, that it was a foul. So she yelled and she screamed and she shook her fist in the air, but it was still a foul.
“If you continue to argue you’re gonna get a technical foul, so you’ve just really got to calm down out there,” Mavunga said. “It’s frustrating of course, but there’s nothing you can do about it.”
So UNC (15-3, 2-2 ACC) fought back. Down by as many as 14 at one point in the second half, the Tar Heels slowly chipped away at the lead. But it was too late.
Gray drained a deep three, then stole the ball and was fouled going for a layup. She drained both free throws and pulled UNC back to within five.
Jamie Cherry made another three a few minutes later. Now it was just two.
And then Mavunga, the one who had started it all, figured she might as well hock up a three, too. So she did. It went in. Notre Dame (16-2, 4-1 ACC), 78, UNC, 77, with four and a half minutes to play.
But that was all the Tar Heels had to give. They wouldn’t score again until there was less than a minute left, the game far out of reach.
“We definitely thought we were going to recover from the deficit,” Gray said. “But I don’t know. Stuff happens I guess.”
When the final whistle sounded, the result had been fixed for a while. UNC made it close, but the game had been over for almost nine minutes.
Ever since that tug.
“You know, I thought we made a good run at them and got it down to I guess one point,” Hatchell said. “Just didn’t have enough firepower.”