In the midst of a near month-long losing streak, the North Carolina women’s basketball team entered a Senior Day matchup against Duke with a considerable level of desperation.
When the Tar Heels entered their first game against the Blue Devils back on Feb. 6, they were 16-6, third in the ACC, and firmly in the discussion for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. After suffering a 71-61 loss in Cameron Indoor Stadium in that game, though, UNC has undergone a collapse.
Playing without junior center Janelle Bailey for the third straight game on Sunday due to injury, North Carolina struggled to find success on either end of the court, and Duke completed the season sweep with a 73-54 victory that never felt close.
The Tar Heels have now lost 12 of their last 13 against the Blue Devils, and have fallen down to 11th place in the ACC standings. Guard Taylor Koenen, the only senior in North Carolina’s starting lineup to have played all four years in Chapel Hill, has beaten the team from Durham only once. Despite her team-high 18 points, the Blue Devils sank 8 of 17 3-point attempts on their way to the victory.
“They’re tough, they can spread you out,” Koenen said. “They’re fast and they’re athletic. I just think that they have a lot of weapons that they use.”
UNC’s first loss to Duke represented a turning point for both teams. Entering the first matchup of the season for the rivals, Duke was an 11-10 team near the middle of the pack in the conference standings.
Since then, the two squads have flip-flopped. The Blue Devils now find themselves heading into the ACC Tournament placed third in the conference, and projected to make an NCAA Tournament appearance.
“I’m really proud of this team,” Duke head coach Joanne McCallie said. “The story they’ve created coming from wherever we came from to where we are right now at third place in the league.”
The Tar Heels, meanwhile, have dropped seven in a row and sit outside the bubble conversation. In that stretch, UNC has eclipsed 70 points just twice, and has struggled to put the ball in the hole against the likes of Syracuse (29.2 percent from the floor) and Notre Dame (31.6 percent).
Shooting woes also played a key role in UNC’s first loss to Duke, and the same struggles proved to kill the Tar Heels chances again on Sunday. North Carolina shot 2-for-21 from 3-point range and went on long scoring droughts early on when the game was still in reach.
A 4-18 third quarter proved fatal for UNC, and sent them into the final period trailing 56-43. When the lead was stretched to 19 with seven and a half minutes left, the result was all but solidified.
While a loss to Duke is always difficult, for North Carolina’s seniors, losing their final game in Carmichael Arena made it even more painful.
“This is the last game in Carmichael, and I have more good memories here than bad,” senior Shayla Bennett said. “I’d say this loss goes down as bad.”
For a UNC team that had its best start to the season since 2014-15, there now seems to be a mood of deflation entering the postseason. Starting Wednesday, the Tar Heels will need to win five games in five days to earn an automatic NCAA Tournament bid.
In a promotional video to thank UNC fans for their support in the fourth quarter, head coach Courtney Banghart appeared on the video board.
“I can’t wait for next year,” Banghart said.
@DTHSports | email@example.com
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.