WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The North Carolina women’s basketball fell for the fifth consecutive game, this time dropping a close one in overtime to Wake Forest, 82-79, on Sunday afternoon.
With the Tar Heels’ (16-11, 8-9 ACC) loss to the Demon Deacons (14-14, 7-10 ACC), they’ll remain in sole possession of ninth place in the ACC.
Missing junior center Janelle Bailey — the team’s leading scorer who was out for the first time this season with injury — the Tar Heels struggled to generate offense and guard the paint.
By halftime, senior guard Taylor Koenen, UNC’s second leading scorer at 14.2 points per game, had missed all seven of her shot attempts. Still, the Tar Heels were able to offset a 31.3 percent shooting half by getting to the free throw line, where the team drained seven of its nine attempts in the opening 20 minutes.
With Koenen not finding a rhythm early, first-year forward Malu Tshitenge led the way in the first half with eight points and six rebounds. Senior guard Shayla Bennett also pitched in six points and two assists, and UNC found itself trailing by just four at the break.
The Tar Heels scored the first points of the second half off a bucket from redshirt senior guard Madinah Muhammad, but they scored just once more in the next four-plus minutes. When Wake Forest junior guard Gina Conti buried two free throws at the 5:38 mark, the Demon Deacons jumped out to a 39-31 lead.
But the Tar Heels fought back.
UNC used a 6-0 run — back-to-back layups by Muhammad and a Koenen jumper — to tie the game, 43-43, with 1:34 left in the third quarter. Then, Wake Forest quickly erased UNC’s run with three consecutive baskets of its own.
The duo of junior forward Ivana Raca — who caused problems all afternoon in the paint for the Tar Heels, finishing with 21 points and eight rebounds — and Conti scored six points in 1:17 to give the Demon Deacons a cushion heading into the final quarter of action.
Free throws made the difference in the fourth quarter, though. At the 8:08 mark of the final frame, Tshitenge hit a pair of shots from the foul line that tied the game again at 49.
Then, less than a minute later, first-year guard Nia Daniel got hacked on a fastbreak shot attempt. Daniel also sunk both free throws to give UNC its first lead of the game, 51-50.
UNC and Wake Forest traded baskets the rest of the way, and with 1:31 to play, the contest was knotted up at 59 a piece.
In the final 17 seconds, Koenen hit four free throws. The 6-foot-2 guard’s final free throw of regulation gave the Tar Heels a three-point advantage.
But it didn’t matter.
The Demon Deacons had an answer each time the Tar Heels struck. And with six seconds remaining, Conti made a 3-pointer from the left wing to tie the game at 68, sending the contest to overtime.
UNC’s shooting woes persisted in overtime, as the Tar Heels shot 5-14 from the floor. For Wake Forest, it was senior guard Alex Sharp who got going in the extended period. She made both of her field goal attempts, including a 3-pointer, to score six points and allow the Demon Deacons to slip away with a three-point victory.
Who stood out?
In Bailey’s absense, and with Koenen having a poor shooting performance, Muhammad took over the Tar Heel offense down the stretch. The 5-foot-8 guard scored six of her team’s 16 points in the third quarter after scoring six points total in the entire first half.
Then, the Ole Miss transfer added nine more points in the final quarter. She finished the afternoon with a game-high 19 points to go with five rebounds and two assists.
For Wake Forest, along with Raca, it was Conti who had a big performance. The 5-foot-10 guard finished with 17 points, seven assists and four rebounds.
When was it decided?
Though it looked as if poor shooting would once again doom the Tar Heels early, this one wasn’t decided until the final two minutes of overtime.
Why does it matter?
With the loss, UNC continues its slide down towards the basement of the ACC. After an early February win, the Tar Heels raced out to a 16-6 record, but the team has lost five games in a little over two weeks.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will look to snap their losing streak Thursday when they hit the road to take on a Notre Dame team that’s one of the worst in the ACC.
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