First-year Janelle Bailey led the way for her team, as North Carolina women’s basketball (13-5, 3-2 ACC) battled to a hard-fought 79-76 overtime victory against Wake Forest (10-9, 3-3 ACC) on Sunday afternoon in Winston-Salem.
UNC entered the game riding high after back-to-back ACC wins over Pitt and Clemson, respectively, and that momentum continued as it got off to a hot start. Bailey put up eight points in the first five minutes of game time, and the Tar Heels jumped out to a quick 16-11 lead midway through the first quarter.
Wake Forest, however, showed early on that they weren’t going to go quietly. Led by sophomore guard Alex Sharp, the Demon Deacons stormed back with 11 unanswered points in the last three minutes of the first quarter to take a 22-16 lead into the second quarter.
In the second quarter, UNC’s defense stepped up, holding Wake Forest to just five points. Bailey continued to put in work, adding four more points to her tally, while Jamie Cherry put up five to give the Tar Heels a 32-27 lead on the brink of halftime. It looked like it would end that way, but Elisa Penna drained a late three-pointer for the Deacons to cut UNC’s lead to 32-30 at the half.
The back and forth nature of the game continued in the second half, with Wake Forest coming out firing to start the third quarter. Ariel Stephenson put up eight points in the first six minutes of the period as the Deacons built themselves a 44-37 lead, but once again, UNC had an answer. The Tar Heels ended the quarter on an 11-2 run to send the game into the final frame with the score tied 48-48.
UNC started to take control of the game in the fourth quarter and four consecutive unanswered layups gave the team a five-point lead. Bailey continued to excel on offense, putting up ten more points in the final period to bring her total to 27 for the game.
With just over three minutes left, the Tar Heels held a seven point lead and looked to be well on their way to securing a third consecutive victory, but the Demon Deacons had other ideas. Elisa Penna hit some clutch free throws with 45 seconds remaining made it a one-point game. After Jamie Cherry made one of two free throws at the other end for UNC, Wake Forest guard Amber Campbell came back down the court and laid it in to send the game to overtime.
Right when it looked like UNC might never be able to close out the game, Cherry stepped up, making all six of her free throws in overtime. Paris Kea also delivered for the Tar Heels, nailing a clutch three-pointer with 1:25 left on the clock to make it a two-possession game. In the end, UNC was able to hang on for its third straight ACC victory.
Who stood out?
Janelle Bailey put in the best performance of her young career to date, going 12 for 18 from the field to finish with 30 points and 19 rebounds. She also contributed defensively with four blocks and a steal. The Matthews, North Carolina, native has been steadily improving this season, and has now averaged 18 points per game over the last six games.
Jamie Cherry also stood out, putting up 20 points despite going just 3-11 from the field. It was her third consecutive game with 20 or more points, and she’s now averaging over 16 points per game this season. The senior has been ever-present for the Tar Heels this season and has truly turned into a leader on and off the court.
When was it decided?
Both teams had numerous chances to take control of the game, but somehow, every time one team went on a run, the other had an answer.
First, UNC started hot, but Wake Forest ended the first quarter with 11 unanswered points. Then, Wake Forest got out to a lead after halftime, only for UNC to rally and tie the game going into the fourth quarter. Finally, UNC held a seven point lead with just over three minutes left, but couldn’t hold on to win it in regulation.
In the end, the Tar Heels were able to pull out the win, but the result was only decided in the final minutes.
Why Does It Matter?
The win is huge for a UNC team that was looking to keep their momentum going after two straight ACC wins. The team has bounced back since dropping its first two games in conference play to Florida State and Boston College, and they now find themselves at a respectable 6th place in the conference.
With massive games against N.C. State and Duke coming up this week, UNC has hit its stride at just the right time.
Wake Forest, meanwhile, dropped below .500 in conference play, and now lies in 10th in the conference.
Where Do They Play Next?
The Tar Heels return to Carmichael Arena on Thursday night to take on N.C. State at 7 p.m.
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