After falling behind big early, the North Carolina women’s basketball team (8-6, 3-6 ACC) wasn’t able to complete the comeback against the No. 1 Louisville Cardinals (16-0, 9-0 ACC), losing 79-68 on Thursday despite a stand out performance from graduate transfer Petra Holešínská.
A series of 3-pointers in the first few minutes of the opening half gave the Cardinals a 12-2 lead at the game's 6:44 mark. From there, Louisville never looked back. Suffocating defense, transition baskets and excellent shooting from beyond the arch put the Cardinals up big in the first half, and they went into halftime with a commanding 55-30 lead. The Cardinals first half shooting was impressive, as they knocked down 56 percent from the field and 57 percent from beyond the arch on 14 shots.
The Cardinals came out in the third quarter with an intense brand of defense that put them up by as many as 32 points.
However, The Tar Heels didn't give up. They started the fourth quarter down 25, and a shift in team energy led to a 14-0 run that closed the gap enough and opened the window for a potential comeback victory. North Carolina's second half performance defensively was also much better, as the Tar Heels held Louisville to 33 percent shooting from the field and from deep.
UNC made this comeback despite senior center Janelle Bailey being taken out of the game due to foul trouble. Ultimately, the Tar Heels weren’t able to shrink the lead lower than eight points in the final minutes, and fell 79-68 for their sixth ACC loss.
Who stood out?
Holešínská was the catalyst of the Tar Heels’ run that helped close the distance in the fourth quarter. The graduate transfer, who had 24 points in the previous game against Norte Dame, poured in 26 points tonight — 12 of which came in the fourth quarter. Once Bailey came out of the game after picking up her fourth foul, Holešínská took full responsibility on the offensive end of the court and led the Tar Heels back into a game that once looked to be a blowout.
First-year Alyssa Ustby was also impressive in her team-high 37 minutes, notching a near double-double with eight points and 10 rebounds and knocking down both free throws in her lone trip to the line.
When was it decided?
A 3-pointer made by Louisville’s Kianna Smith put the Cardinals up 11 with under a minute to go and ultimately ended the Tar Heels’ fourth quarter comeback effort. Despite last minute heroics, Louisville's initial lead was simply too much to overcome for North Carolina.
Why does it matter?
The loss against the Cardinals Thursday night is the Tar Heels fourth loss in their last five games. The loss also makes earning a NCAA tournament bid for the first time in head coach Courtney Banghart's two-year tenure look a little more out of reach for the Tar Heels with nine games left in the regular season.
After starting the season undefeated in out-of-conference play, UNC has struggled to string together wins in the ACC.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels next game will be at Virginia Tech on Sunday, Jan. 31 at 4:00 p.m.
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