“Well, that was fun,” sophomore guard Kennedy Todd-Williams said as she sat down after the final buzzer sounded. Every UNC fan in Carmichael Arena would agree, to say the least.
The home crowd rocked on Thursday night as the North Carolina women's basketball team battled No. 3 Louisville, to whom they have lost the last eight series meetings.
Despite the history and the odds, No. 24 North Carolina persevered. In a physical, back-and-forth game, the team picked up a season-defining upset, defeating the Cardinals, 66-65.
The whole team played with visible chemistry. But it was the dynamic duo of Todd-Williams and fellow sophomore guard Deja Kelly that helped seal the win in the final minutes.
UNC trailed 63-62 after Louisville made two free throws. Suddenly, Kelly found herself with the ball around the 40-second mark, when she took a jump shot.
"I took it, it went in, and that was the story she wrote, right?” Kelly said.
Her jumper gave UNC a short-lived lead until the team was down one again.
With 21 seconds left, Todd-Williams' talent for finding shots came to the rescue. She drew two free throws when the team needed it most.
“I saw a lane, I knew (Olivia) Cochran was guarding me, and I knew she was probably gonna jump for it," Todd-Williams said. "I ended up getting that foul, obviously, there was some pressure, but I know I’m a confident free-throw shooter."
Confident would be an understatement. With the game on the line, she made both shots with 16 seconds left on the clock.
Louisville still had one more chance, and the ball found the hands of Louisville guard Kianna Smith, who shot a three that could've secured the win.
The ball bounced off the rim before Louisville's Chelsie Hall rebounded it and put up a jumper that sat on the heel of the basket for what felt like a lifetime.
Then it fell back to the floor, confirming the Tar Heels' upset.
“The ball was rattling I saw everybody looking up top, but we secured the rebound, we secured the win,” Todd-Williams said.
Though her final two free throws led UNC to the win, they barely scratch the surface of Todd-Williams’ performance.
She scored a career-high 19 points, taking the pressure in stride, to help the Tar Heels capture arguably their biggest win of her college career.
She made two jumpers in the last five and a half minutes that gave the team the momentum it needed in the final stretch. Her teammates and coach affirmed their belief in her, noting that she was the one to trust.
“She’s grown so much, as a teammate you see that and you have a different type of trust with each other on the floor and it shows,” Kelly said.
Todd-Williams explained that her results have come from her continuous behind-the-scenes work.
“I stay in after practice, I get up extra shots and play with the practice players,” Todd-Williams said. “Last year, I held back what I could’ve done but with the time off I was just grinding, and I built confidence in myself to unleash the beast."
North Carolina head coach Courtney Banghart said she saw hope in Todd-Williams' game last year, but knew it would take time to develop.
A season later, on Thursday night, Todd-Williams showed her true potential. As the Tar Heels played hard to upset the No. 3 team in the country, those late nights after practice and extra gym sessions meant everything.
“We wouldn’t be where we are without her improvement,” Banghart said.
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