Two straight losses turned into three on Tuesday as the North Carolina women’s basketball team (7-5, 2-5 ACC) failed to maintain its third quarter momentum, losing 88-76 to No. 23 Syracuse (7-1, 4-1 ACC).
The game started at a brisk tempo, with plenty of fast break opportunities for both teams. The Orange got into their pick and roll game early into possessions, with Tiana Mangakahia being the main beneficiary with 7 points and 5 assists in the first half. UNC responded with quick ball movement, important for dealing with Syracuse's full-court press.
UNC was bolstered by graduate transfer guard Stephanie Watts, who hit her first 3-pointer since Dec. 10 after missing her last 20 attempts.
As the game slowed down in the second quarter and the fast break well dried up, UNC struggled for half court offense, aiming to pound the ball inside and draw fouls instead, generating 10 attempts from the free throw line in the quarter.
For their part, the Orange went just 6-24 from the field in the frame, instead dominating on the offensive glass with 13 offensive rebounds to their name.
The Tar Heels made their offensive intent in the third quarter clear: get to the line, attack early in the shot clock and run in transition. That led to their biggest lead of the game, nine, after a 30-point third quarter. Senior Janelle Bailey was red-hot in the frame, scoring 14 points in the quarter. The Tar Heels looked like the 10th-best defensive rebounding team in the nation again in the third, allowing the Orange just two offensive rebounds.
UNC’s defense would collapse to start the fourth quarter, though, as it struggled to defend the Syracuse pick and roll and allowed a 19-9 run to open the frame. Mangakahia heated up again, with 6 points and 7 assists in the quarter. Once again, as the fast break well dried up, and with Bailey cooling down, the Tar Heels couldn’t stop Syracuse's half court offense. A six-point lead to end the third quarter turned into a 12-point loss, with UNC mustering up just nine points in the final quarter.
Who stood out?
Bailey’s 14 points in the third quarter and 22 points overall helped UNC establish a lead in the first place, even if she went cold in the fourth. Today was also a game of rebirth for Watts, who notched 15 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3-6 shooting from beyond the arch while showing prowess scoring in the pick and roll.
When was it decided?
The last two minutes of the game, which saw Syracuse go up double-digits, spelled the end for UNC after a tightly contested game. While in desperation, UNC started double-teaming Mangakahia, but was still unable to take the lid off the basket offensively.
Why does it matter?
Tuesday marked three consecutive ACC losses for UNC, ensuring they’ll have gone a month without a win. Sitting at 11th in the ACC with 10 games of conference play to go, the Tar Heels will want to replicate what they produced in the third quarter and avoid making a habit out of being outrebounded, as this was their second straight rebound battle lost, as Syracuse ripped down 50 to the Tar Heels' 36.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will be back in Chapel Hill on Sunday to face Notre Dame at noon.
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