Carmichael Arena has been host to a number of historic moments, but the North Carolina women’s basketball team’s game on Sunday will surely be included on the list.
And for the 4,704 fans in attendance, the day would be an unforgettable one, as the Tar Heels (12-9, 3-4 ACC) defeated then-No. 1 Notre Dame, the defending National Champion, in a historic 78-73 upset.
Redshirt senior guard Paris Kea led the Tar Heels to victory, scoring a season-high record of 30 points and dishing out 10 assists. Following her stellar night, Kea made sure to pay homage to the fans.
“The crowd was absolutely amazing tonight,” Kea said. “When we slapped the floor on defense, everybody went wild, and when we came out for the fourth quarter everybody was yelling.”
The Tar Heels seemed to feed off the crowd coming down the stretch. After an impressive third quarter that gave UNC a 62-53 lead, Notre Dame (19-2, 6-1 ACC) came storming back with a 12-1 run to begin the fourth quarter. The run was extinguished when redshirt junior guard Stephanie Watts and sophomore center Janelle Bailey each made a clutch basket to keep the Tar Heels in the game.
The deciding shot, however, came from sophomore guard Leah Church, who only made one bucket the entire game — a 3-pointer to put UNC ahead by three points with 1:25 remaining in the contest. What did the team notice when the three went in? The crowd, of course.
“When Leah hit that really big three, the crowd amped me up and amped the team up,” Kea said. “It was an amazing atmosphere today.”
UNC has played in a number of close games this season where they could have used a crowd like the one on Sunday to amp them up. They narrowly lost at the now-ranked No. 3 Louisville and suffered a one-point loss in Carmichael Arena to No. 24 Florida State. Head coach Sylvia Hatchell acknowledged the team’s tough road thus far.
“We’ve had close games, we’ve had overtime, we’ve had one-point games,” Hatchell said. “These kids have worked really hard, we had a great game plan and we executed it.”
The Tar Heels have had their ups and downs this season, but Watts believes that the team can still surprise some ACC opponents down the road — particularly if that home crowd keeps showing up in full force.
“We’re a better team than our record shows,” Watts said. Hatchell nodded along — of UNC's nine losses on the season, six have come by 10 points or less.
North Carolina has five home games remaining, including a tilt with undefeated No. 7 N.C. State in its last home game of the year on Feb. 24. Time will tell if the Tar Heels will be able to keep feeding off strong home crowds, and if the Notre Dame upset is an indication of better things to come.
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