The North Carolina women’s basketball fell to rival Duke, 73-54, in its final regular-season game Sunday at Carmichael Arena. UNC (16-13, 7-11 ACC) has now lost seven games in a row.
Playing without star center Janelle Bailey for the third straight game, the Tar Heels put up a fight in the first quarter before faltering against a hot-shooting Duke team led by Haley Gorecki (23 points).
Taylor Koenen scored a team-high 18 in the loss, which was also UNC’s Senior Day. To have even a fighting chance at qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, the Tar Heels will now have to go on a miracle run in the ACC Tournament, which starts Wednesday in Greensboro.
Duke (18-11, 12-6 ACC) shot a scorching 10 of 18 in the first quarter en route to a 22-19 lead. But North Carolina wasn’t far behind; the Tar Heels were a solid 47 percent from the field in the opening quarter, while guard Shayla Bennett was responsible for eight of UNC’s first 19 points off a variety of layups and jumpers.
That shooting, however, waned in the second quarter. With five minutes remaining in the half, UNC was shooting 1-11 from deep and 9-23 from the field. Despite those struggles, the Tar Heels still just trailed 28-23.
The Blue Devils ultimately capitalized on North Carolina’s cold offense. Behind guards Gorecki (11 points) and Miela Goodchild (10), Duke carried a 41-32 lead into halftime.
The third quarter brought more of the same — the Blue Devils outscored the Tar Heels, 15-11, and maintained a comfortable lead throughout. UNC, which trailed 56-43 after three, opted for 3-point shooting but still couldn’t buy a bucket.
North Carolina trailed by as many as 19 in an uneventful fourth quarter. With 1:24 left, Koenen subbed out to a standing ovation. The final buzzer on a bittersweet Senior Day sounded minutes later.
Who stood out?
Koenen scored a game-high 18 in her final game at Carmichael Arena and added eight rebounds and four assists. Tshitenge had a 15-point, 11-rebound double-double, and Bennett also reached double figures with 10.
Gorecki, who shot 8-14 from the field, was the standout for Duke, but the Blue Devils also got a balanced offensive performance in their win. Outside of Gorecki, five players scored at least seven points.
When was it decided?
With 4:52 left in the second quarter, North Carolina trailed by just five points. But out of that break, Duke went on a 13-6 run to end the half. The Blue Devils’ 28-23 lead quickly became 42-31 — their largest of the first half. North Carolina never got within striking distance again.
Why does it matter?
Entering the month of February, UNC hadn’t lost consecutive games all season. But on Sunday, the Tar Heels ended their first regular season under coach Courtney Banghart on a season-worst seven-game skid.
The team’s last three losses, it should be noted, came without Bailey, its leading scorer and rebounder.
After the game, UNC also honored its seven seniors: Koenen, Bennett, Muhammad, guard Liz Roberts, forwards Olivia Smith and Emily Sullivan and center Naomi Van Nes.
When do they play next?
North Carolina will try to keep its season alive in the 2020 ACC Tournament, which starts Wednesday in Greensboro.
The Tar Heels entered the game against Duke at 10th place in the conference. The final seeding won’t be determined until later Sunday night, but North Carolina will open ACC play on either Wednesday or Thursday as a bottom-half seed.
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