The UNC women's basketball team (11-8, 6-8 ACC) extended its conference win streak to three games with a strong offensive performance at Clemson (10-10, 5-10 ACC) on Thursday night, 77-64.
Both teams came out strong with a fast-paced offense. Graduate guard Stephanie Watts’ strong performance was apparent in the first quarter, contributing six points to the team’s total 12 at the end of the first quarter. Both Clemson and the Tar Heels remained neck-and-neck in the first period, with the largest point differential being UNC's four-point lead at multiple times during the quarter.
With the help of Watts, senior center Janelle Bailey and first-year guard Deja Kelly, UNC began to pull away with a 9-0 run to start the second quarter, with seven Clemson turnovers aiding them. The Tigers started to claw their way back, with two field goals in two possessions, but first-year guard Alyssa Ustby made a crucial layup to increase the UNC lead to 30-20. The half ended with a Tar Heel lead of 36-24.
The Tar Heels came out with another explosive performance, opening the second half with a 7-0 run. UNC held Clemson to only six points through the last five minutes of the third quarter, continuing its dominant defensive play that has continued to develop throughout the season, while also maintaining power in the attack.
The Tar Heels followed their pattern once again of an exciting and dynamic beginning of the quarter, extending the lead 70-50. While Clemson made a bit of a comeback with eleven points in the last five minutes of the quarter, UNC was able to extend its lead further on offense with crucial field goals from first-year forward Anya Poole and Watts in the last 3 minutes, leading the Tar Heels to finish 77-64.
Who stood out?
Watts' performance for UNC throughout the whole game was dominant. Watts, at the top of the Tar Heel box score with a season-high 26 points, exploded in the second quarter, with all five of her rebounds and 10 of her points coming in the second period. This makes Watt’s eighth-straight game scoring in double figures after breaking a 0-20 3-point shooting slump earlier in the season.
Another standout for the Tar Heels was Kelly, with 19 points, three rebounds and a 100 percent free throw shooting rate, making 7-7.
When was it decided?
With six minutes to go in the second half, UNC extended its lead to 20 points off of three field goals in under a minute. The Tar Heels continued to shut down Clemson’s offense and blow past them with their points in the paint. At 70-50, with around five minutes of game time left and a slower-paced Clemson offense, a UNC win was apparent.
Why does it matter?
This game was a crucial win for the Tar Heels after winning consecutive ACC games, including against No. 4 N.C. State, but also for their place in the NCAA Tournament. With ESPN releasing their Bracketology projection this Tuesday, both teams knew the winner would be ‘in’ the NCAA tournament bracket, while the loser could fall into the ‘First Four Out'. UNC was able to overcome the mental challenge and ring in a victory to make another step towards the tournament.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels' next matchup comes against the revenge-seeking No. 4 N.C. State Wolfpack in Raleigh on Sunday, Feb. 21 at noon.
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