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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC women's basketball unravel in fourth quarter, fall to Mercer

Jaelynn Murray v Hartford
Forward Jaelynn Murray (30) takes a 3-pointer against Hartford on Dec. 1 in Carmichael Arena.

When North Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell spoke to Mercer head coach Susie Gardner on the phone last week, Hatchell had a feeling the Tar Heels’ contest with the Bears would be no cakewalk. 

However, it is unlikely that Hatchell predicted that her team would unravel down the stretch the way it did. North Carolina (10-3) blew a 16-point lead with nine minutes left in the game and fell to Mercer (12-2) at home, 86-97. 

“I was talking about her team and she said, ‘Oh yeah, this is the best team we’ve ever had,’" Hatchell said. "And [she said] that they were a veteran team and experienced and very talented. When a coach says all that to another coach about their team, that’s pretty good. You’ve got to be pretty confident when you’re actually out there saying that to your opponent.” 

UNC played a solid game for three quarters, but couldn’t sustain its effort. Redshirt junior guard Paris Kea had her 26th consecutive double-figure scoring game with 26 points, three assists and four rebounds. First-year center Janelle Bailey also had a strong performance, finishing the game with 19 points and 10 rebounds for her fourth double-double of the season. However, Bailey saw limited minutes in the second half due to foul trouble, and she fouled out with 3:42 left to play. 

This was the fourth time that Bailey has fouled out this year. 

“I realized that every game we’ve lost, I’ve fouled out of,” Bailey said. “So, I don’t know when that’s going to click for me. But I have to realize my value to the team. Whether it is letting something go, if I see we have a good point margin, or just playing smarter than I am.” 

With Bailey out of the game, the Bears’ defense focused all their attention on Kea. The junior guard shot just 1-5 from the field in the final quarter of play. 

“Every time Paris touched the ball, they were double teaming her and making her give it up,” Hatchell said. “Which was a really smart move of their part. Then, we had nobody else that was stepping up.”

One of the main facets of the game where the Tar Heels came up short was in guarding the perimeter. Mercer shot 10-of-24 from three-point territory while UNC shot just 3 of 10 from deep. 

The three-ball was a vital part of Mercer’s offensive attack and it all started with the Bears’ senior guard Kahlia Lawrence. UNC had no answer for Lawrence and seemed to have no clue on how to contain her. The 5-foot-8 guard went off for 39 points and 13 rebounds and hit six of her nine three-point attempts. 

“I mean, we tried to switch up the defense a little bit,” Kea said. “Definitely tried to face guard [Lawrence] so she doesn’t get the ball — a player without the ball can’t score. I’m not sure how she got 39.” 

The Tar Heels also struggled to take care of the basketball and finished the contest with 17 turnovers, while the Bears had just five turnovers on the game. A handful of these were live-ball turnovers — caused by defensive intensity — which Mercer turned in to points. Yet, some of UNC’s mistakes were self-inflicted. 

As effective as Bailey was in the paint, she also led the team in turnovers with five. 

“I’m not discrediting Mercer,” Bailey said. “I know their defense obviously had something to do with why we lost. But at that point when I was [turning the ball over], that’s just mental mistakes, because my footwork isn’t that bad. That’s just me shuffling my feet. I need to go back in the gym, watch it on film and then go do it again.” 

Overall, Mercer brought an energy level and ferociousness in the final stage of the game that North Carolina failed to reciprocate. The Tar Heels became complacent and the Bears took advantage. 

“They kicked it into another gear basically the last eight minutes and we were on cruise control like, ‘Hey, let’s just ride this thing out and finish this,’” Hatchell said. “They went on another level and we didn’t match that.” 

@pupadhyaya_

sports@dailytarheel.com

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