The North Carolina women’s basketball team dropped its season opener to Hampton, 70-66, in a tightly contested battle on Friday afternoon.
North Carolina struggled from the start as Hampton jumped out to an early lead. The Pirates led by as many as 10 with 5:51 to go in the second quarter.
North Carolina struggled to stop the fast break early on. Hampton had 14 points off turnovers and 10 on the fast break at the end of the first half.
North Carolina gained some momentum at the end of the half, as a block from forward Emily Sullivan led to a fast break layup for guard Taylor Koenen. Redshirt junior Paris Kea converted on a free throw attempt at the end of the half to cut the lead to five going into the locker room.
North Carolina came out hot and took control of the lead in the third quarter, and would lead by as many as seven in the fourth. Several late game threes from Hampton, however, brought the Pirates back. The back-and-forth game came down to the wire, and it was all but over when senior guard Jamie Cherry missed a three-point attempt in the final moments of the game.
Hampton left Carmichael Arena with a 70-66 victory.
Who stood out?
Kea had a heroic effort in the Tar Heels’ loss. With a stat line of 24 points, six steals, five rebounds, and six assists with only three turnovers, the Tarboro, N.C., native proved she could do it all.
Kea scored in a variety of ways, getting it done through driving, midrange jumpers and drawing fouls.
Her six steals indicated her defensive effectiveness. She consistently blocked up passing lanes for Hampton and used quick hands to lead to transition offense. She also registered a block in the final minute of the game that could have saved the game for the Tar Heels.
When was it decided?
Hampton was up 69-65 in the waning minutes of the game, and Paris Kea was at the free throw line. When she missed the first, Tar Heel head coach Sylvia Hatchell could be heard calling a play — she screamed "41" — to senior leader Cherry lined up on the block.
Kea sank the second free throw to bring the Tar Heels within three, and they set up a full court press while Hampton inbounded the ball. Hampton beat the pressure, and, with under a minute to play, UNC fell back into its half-court defense, needing a stop to stay alive.
Kea provided just that.
A Hampton guard drove into the lane and Kea blocked the shot, collected it, then pushed it up the court.
Kea dribbled for a while, looking for an open shot. When she found none, she passed to an open Cherry curling to the top of the three-point arc. Cherry got a shot off that was well contested, but the shot fell very short and out of bounds.
Hampton inbounded the ball and was fouled immediately. They made one free throw to push the lead to four, and, effectively, the game was over.
Why does it matter?
North Carolina dropped to 0-1 on the season and showed some characteristic flaws.
The team is young and is missing two of last year’s starters, juniors Stephanie Watts and Destinee Walker due to injury. Because of this, first-years Janelle Bailey and Jaelynn Murray and redshirt first-year Jocelyn Jones are stepping into significant roles.
The young team will have to learn to deal with the veteran starters’ absence for the time being.
When do they play next?
North Carolina next plays Colorado at home on Sunday at 2 p.m.
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