A late comeback attempt from 14 points down couldn’t save the tenth-seed North Carolina women’s basketball team from the inevitable, falling 80-71 to seventh-seed Alabama in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Monday.
UNC’s first quarter was jittery at best, with the team shooting 5-24 from the field. For consistency, the Tar Heels looked to graduate transfer Stephanie Watts, who chipped in three 3-pointers for nine of the Tar Heels’ 15 points.
Meanwhile, Alabama’s 6-11 shooting from beyond the arc on the half echoed struggles UNC has had all year guarding the 3-point line.
UNC slowed down the pace of its offense in the second quarter, especially towards the end. It became clear that the only way to disrupt Alabama’s defense was to stretch it with ball and player movement, and a couple of possessions saw a North Carolina team which had settled into the game and was ready to dictate it.
Still, Alabama’s spacing opened up gaps for the Crimson Tide to get into the paint. Jordan Lewis took the hint, scoring 18 of Alabama’s 41 first half points to the Tar Heels’ 31.
UNC went into the halftime break down a manageable 10, but needing a more complete performance on both sides of the court to complete the comeback.
Lewis’ career game wouldn’t stop in the second half. She added 14 points for a season-high 32, and North Carolina was never able to adjust to stop Lewis, as her gravity proved too strong and consistently created holes in the Tar Heel defense to exploit.
The Tar Heels stayed patient until the end, refusing to allow Alabama to dictate their pace. They continued to lean on Watts’ shooting and senior Janelle Bailey’s post presence to keep up with the Crimson Tide on offense. But Bailey’s 16 points and nine boards, coupled with Watts’ 29 points, weren’t enough to stop the Crimson Tide from rolling into the second round.