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.
When was it decided?
UNC settled into the game and gave itself a chance by staying focused on running its sets. But a few transition scores late into the fourth quarter gave Alabama a 14-point lead with just over three minutes left, its largest of the game and one that proved to be insurmountable for the Tar Heels.
Who stood out?
From the start, Watts’ hot shooting kept North Carolina's head above water, consistently finding space beyond the arc to punish Alabama. Bailey, on the other hand, grew into the game, struggling early with Alabama's physicality but showing the poise to hit tough shots later on. Though their collegiate careers didn’t end the way they wanted, both went out with impressive performances.
Why does it matter?
A first round tournament loss marks the end of the Tar Heels’ season. Still, the game should serve as invaluable experience for the team of five first-years heading into their sophomore year. The commitment of three highly-touted recruits in Destiny Adams, Kayla McPherson and Teonni Key should bolster a young core with tournament experience already under its belt next year.
When do they play next?
With this loss, North Carolina's 2020-2021 season came to an end.
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