It all came down to the wire as No. 24 UNC women's basketball (20-5, 10-5) defeated No. 3 Louisville (22-3, 13-2) at home, 66-65.
The Cardinals won the tipoff and got on the board first off a fast break layup. North Carolina responded with a score from sophomore guard Alyssa Ustby and two made free throws by sophomore guard Kennedy Todd-Williams, bringing the Tar Heels their first lead of the night. The rest of the quarter saw four lead changes, with the help of sophomore guard Deja Kelly’s two threes in a row. At the end of the period, the Tar Heels were down four, 20-16.
The second period started on a high note with a jumper from Kelly and a layup from Utsby, but moved toward a fast decline with a scoreless four minutes to follow, leaving UNC to trail by eight points. Following a media break, the Tar Heels got some of their mojo back with baskets from Todd-Williams, Kelly and sophomore forward Anya Poole bringing the deficit to five by the break. North Carolina, however, remained starved of points outside of the circle, reducing its three-point percentage to 25, compared to Louisville’s 50.
The Tar Heels were quiet until just shy of the eighth minute of the third, which saw a layup from Poole to bring UNC within four of the Cardinals, 38-34. Louisville clipped in two more doubles before Poole and Todd-Williams drew fouls, both going 1-2 at the line. Kelly broke her 17-17 streak from the foul line, missing her first free throw of two, but brought the team within five.
With a minute left in the third, Utsby closed out the quarter by splashing three of her own, followed by a Littlefield layup to tie the score. UNC topped the Cardinals for a mere 28 seconds before a Louisville three-point buzzer beater was made, leaving the scoreboard at 50-48 going into the final quarter.
UNC played from behind throughout the first five minutes of the fourth, but never dipped below five points of Louisville’s score. Then, with a redshirt senior guard Eva Hodgson layup and five points from Todd-Williams, North Carolina was suddenly up 58-57. Defensive pressure heats up as the teams battle for the lead, running down the shot clock on almost every possession.
In the final three minutes, Kelly drew personal and technical fouls, but again, only shooting 1-2 to inch UNC up, 62-61. After Louisville made two free throws to snag the lead, the Tar Heels raced the clock in the last minute of regulation. Kelly made a jump shot with :23 seconds to go to take UNC up 64-63, which was followed by a layup from the Cardinals to take the score 65-64.
With 16 seconds to go, Todd-Williams drew a foul and made two from the line.
And in the final seconds, Louisville scrambled to get the ball up, passing the ball around the circle until finally, a shot was up. It teetered on the iron…then missed.
North Carolina emerged victorious, 66-65.
Who stood out?
Todd-Williams posted a career-high 19 points and went 5-6 from the free throw line, two shots of which notched UNC the win.
Despite breaking her perfect 17-17 free throw record from the past four contests, going only 4-6 against the Cardinals, Kelly also made a splash in the front court. She tallied 18 points, her fifth game in a row in double digits.
When was it decided?
UNC rallied throughout the first two quarters and almost stole the lead by halftime, despite being down by as many as 10 points. As soon as the Tar Heels managed to overcome their shooting slump from behind the stripe, they stormed the court through the physical screens of the big Louisville forwards to catch up on the scoreboard. The game was neck-and-neck until the final shot bounced off the rim; even head coach Courtney Banghart was convinced that she was “going to have to pick the team’s heart up off the ground” during the last seconds of playing time.
Why does it matter?
This win marks UNC’s second against a ranked opponent this season, following Jan. 27’s contest against Duke. Louisville is now Banghart’s highest-ranked team that she has beaten in her three seasons at UNC. A barnburner like this boosters the team’s portfolio not only in the ACC; ranked as No. 6 in the conference, UNC has now beaten two teams, No. 2 Louisville and No. 3 Virginia Tech, ahead of it. And with just three more regular season games left to play, this win will also bolster North Carolina’s standings in the Big Dance.
When do they play next?
North Carolina travels to Tallahassee on Sunday to compete against Florida State. Tipoff is slated for noon.
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