The North Carolina women’s basketball team (8-5, 3-5 ACC) defeated Notre Dame (8-6, 6-4), 78-73, on Sunday in Chapel Hill to put an end to its three-game losing streak after an impressive performance by graduate student Stephanie Watts.
The Tar Heels and the Fighting Irish appeared to be pretty evenly matched in the first quarter. Watts scored the first bucket of the game, which was quickly followed by a jumper from Notre Dame. A 3-pointer from Watts was answered with another 3-pointer from the Irish, and shortly after, Watts scored a layup on the fast break which was answered with a layup by Notre Dame. Graduate student Petra Holešínská sank a 3-pointer, and Notre Dame followed up with a quick 3-pointer in response. First-year Alyssa Ustby scored the last two points of the quarter, putting the Tar Heels ahead, 17-16.
Sophomore Malu Tshitenge scored a layup to open the second quarter, and a 3-pointer and a field goal from Ustby gave the Tar Heels a quick lead. The Tar Heels kept up their momentum, with a layup by Watts putting them ahead by double-digits. Notre Dame did not score a field goal until more than three minutes into the quarter.
Holešínská responded with a 3-point basket and another deep shot on the fast break two minutes later. Two sets of made free throws and a 3-pointer put the Fighting Irish back within single-digits. A jumper and a pair of free throws in the last two minutes of the quarter brought the score to 39-35 with the Tar Heels in the lead at half.
Notre Dame started the second half with two buckets to tie the score at 39. North Carolina had a slow start, with two missed field goals and a turnover in the first two minutes, but Watts sank a 3-pointer and Ustby followed up with a layup on the fast break to reclaim the lead.
Two 3-pointers and a fast break layup helped the Irish take back the lead almost halfway into the quarter. A series of missed shots left UNC trailing by six until Watts scored a 3-pointer and a set of free throws, closing the gap to just a point. Notre Dame scored a 3-pointer at the end of the quarter, bringing the score to 58-54 going into the final period of play.
After a slow start to the fourth quarter, the teams traded baskets for a bit until a 3-pointer and a layup allowed the Irish to pull ahead before a North Carolina timeout with 4:15 left in the game. Watts scored a fast break layup coming out of the timeout, and back-to-back 3-pointers by Holešínská with under two minutes left in the game gave the Tar Heels a one-point lead.
The Irish tied the game with a free throw, but shortly after, Holešínská made two free throws, bringing the score to 75-73 and forcing Notre Dame to call a timeout with 1:04 seconds to play. Three made free throws by Watts in the last 10 seconds of the game sealed the win, 78-73.
Who stood out?
Watts had an impressive performance, posting a double-double with twenty-five points and twelve rebounds. She scored some of the key free throws at the end of the game, and went 5-6 overall from the line. Watts also tallied nine assists.
Holešínská was also a high scorer, putting up 24 points. She scored 18 of her points from behind the arc, going 6-11 from beyond the arch.
When was it decided?
The teams were essentially evenly matched throughout the game, especially in the second half where the biggest lead by either team was just six points. The game was not decided until late in the fourth quarter when Watts made a pair of free throws to give the Tar Heels a four point lead with just a few seconds to play.
Why does it matter?
This victory gives the Tar Heels’ their first since the start of 2021, and puts an end to their three-game losing streak. Coming off of a win, the Tar Heels can use the momentum heading into a matchup with No. 1 Louisville on Thursday, and start working their way back up in the ACC rankings.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will travel to Louisville for their next game on Thursday, Jan. 28 at 7 p.m.
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