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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC women's basketball shows promise in 67-57 loss to No. 4 Louisville

Paris Kea Louisville

Guard Paris Kea (22) drives to the basket against Louisville on Feb. 18 in Carmichael Arena.

Despite suffering a 67-57 loss to No. 4 Louisville, the North Carolina women’s basketball head coach Sylvia Hatchell wanted to focus on the positives.

“To play the No. 4 team in the country like we did, we did a lot of good things," she said. "I’m excited about the progress that we’ve made and how hard the kids are working.”

The game marked the Tar Heels’ (14-13, 4-10 ACC) seventh straight loss. They have not won in nearly a month since upsetting then-No. 15 Duke in overtime on Jan. 21.

Louisville (27-2, 13-1 ACC) came into Sunday afternoon's contest tied atop the ACC standings with Notre Dame — a top-five team which the Cardinals had beaten by 33 points earlier in the season — and North Carolina came in on a six-game skid.

But Hatchell didn’t fixate on the results of the game. Instead, she focused on identifying bright spots from a battle against one of the nation’s top teams. Where others might have seen despair, she saw progress.

“It’s not about the losses; it’s about how we play,” she said. “These kids busted their behinds out there and played good team basketball. We got better; we played a good game against a great team.”

In the face of a daunting matchup, the Tar Heels fought admirably. Stingy defense and efficient shooting propelled them to a 16-13 lead at the end of the first quarter.

North Carolina varied its defense to keep Louisville on its toes. In total, Hatchell said they showed Louisville six different looks. Those defensive changes led to Louisville turnovers, which led to North Carolina points. UNC forced six turnovers and held the Cardinals to 28-percent shooting in the first quarter.

Louisville head coach Jeff Walz took notice of the Tar Heels’ effort on defense — a hustle that kept them in the game for three quarters.

“I thought they played extremely hard,” he said.

The Tar Heels kept up their strong defensive effort through the third quarter, when a Louisville 3-pointer at the buzzer tied the game at 45-45. But in the fourth quarter, North Carolina ran out of gas.

The fatigue in the Tar Heels' rotation meant legs started to give out and jump shots started to go flat.

Louisville outscored UNC 22-12 in the fourth quarter, and UNC finished the second half shooting only 25 percent from the floor. Hatchell credited Louisville’s defense and a disparity in depth for a poor second half of shooting.

“They’re very seasoned," Hatchell said. "They’re very athletic. They have good depth, and in the last four or five minutes, that probably made some difference.”

With Destinee Walker and Stephanie Watts out for the season, the Tar Heels have been forced to rely on a short rotation. That lack of depth proved to be an issue on Sunday, as only six Tar Heels saw the floor for more than three minutes.

In 37 minutes of playing time, Janelle Bailey posted a strong performance — one of the bright spots for the Tar Heels. The first-year forward finished with 20 points and seven rebounds, and she showed off a versatility in scoring. 

When she couldn’t get the ball in good position in the post, she turned to her jump shot. She hit three midrange jumpers in the first quarter.

“They walled me up,” Bailey said of Louisville’s post players. “So I just tried to mix it up and get some offensive rebounds when my shot wasn’t falling.”

The Tar Heels’ hustle and Bailey’s progression gave Hatchell hope, despite the double-digit loss.

“We gave them about all we had, really,” Hatchell said. “We did a lot of good things. We’re just working hard and getting better.

“You know, the future looks bright.”

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