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Paris Kea's 29 points drive UNC women's basketball to third straight win

Paris Kea women's basketball Georgia tech 2
UNC senior guard Paris Kea (22) weaves between Georgia Tech players during a game in Carmichael Arena on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. UNC won 91-90.

Less than a week after she led the North Carolina women’s basketball team to its biggest win in years — a five-point defeat of then-No.1 Notre Dame — Paris Kea’s game looked off. 

In a 91-90 win over Georgia Tech on Thursday night, the redshirt senior guard went scoreless in the first quarter and missed her first five shots. But the crowd at Carmichael Arena had to have known her drought wouldn’t last for long. 

When Kea scored her first basket of the game with 8:18 left in the second quarter, UNC fans were on their feet. She scored two more times in the following minutes and never cooled off on the way to a 29-point outing that helped the Tar Heels (13-9, 4-4 ACC) get by the Yellow Jackets (13-8, 3-5 ACC).

“I didn’t tell her anything,” head coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “I said, ‘You just play. Play, girl.’ I think when they went to the press in the second half, that probably actually helped Paris. Because in the open court, she’s pretty doggone good.” 

Whether it was that the Yellow Jackets’ defensive adjustment backfired or that Kea simply found her touch, something clicked in the second half. Kea scored 17 of her 29 points after halftime. 

However, as good as Kea was, she wasn’t the best player on the court. 

Georgia Tech first-year guard Elizabeth Balogun scored 35 points and hit six of her 12 3-point attempts. Balogun kept the Yellow Jackets in the game and by the end of the third quarter, the Tar Heels’ 11-point halftime lead had shrunk to a three-point advantage. 

“When we went through the line, I told her, ‘Girl, you’re a heck of a player,’” Hatchell said. “I mean, really. We didn’t have any answer for her.” 

After a Georgia Tech shot clock violation gave UNC the ball back with a 88-87 lead and 10 seconds left, Kea tried to run the clock out but was fouled. She came up big again, this time with two made free throws that gave the Tar Heels a three-point advantage.

But Balogun wouldn’t let the Yellow Jackets go away that easily. She pump faked on a 3-point attempt to get redshirt junior guard Stephanie Watts to bite just enough to draw contact and launch a shot at the rim. 

Balogun missed the prayer but earned three free throws. The Tar Heels on the floor asked the crowd to make noise, and they delivered. Carmichael Arena was the loudest it had been since the final seconds of Sunday’s historic victory. 

But Balogun was unfazed. The first-year showed poise as she sunk all three free throws to tie the contest at 90 a piece. 

UNC got the ball back with less than two seconds left. This time, the ball and the faith of her team wasn’t in Kea’s hands, though — it was in sophomore center Janelle Bailey’s. 

Bailey attempted a mid-range jumper that would have won the game, but she was fouled. She had made five of six of her attempts at the free-throw line to lead up to the moment, but these would come with more pressure.

The first free throw bounced off the rim. This time, Carmichael Arena was silent. 

“‘Just stay calm,’” Bailey said she told herself in the moment. “Just like any other shot.”

Her second free throw went through the hoop, and her frustrations turned to exhilaration as she was surrounded by her teammates when Georgia Tech’s final heave missed and the final buzzer sounded. 

“I just try to be true to myself and trust my game and trust my teammates and coaches,” Bailey said. 

With the win, North Carolina captured its third consecutive victory and avoided a letdown after making history Sunday night. 

“We needed this win,” Bailey said. “We didn’t want to be a one-hit wonder.” 

@pupadhyaya_ 

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