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No. 23 UNC women's basketball claims physical 64-54 win over Pittsburgh at home

Sophomore guard Kennedy Todd-Williams (3) looks for a teammate to pass to at the women's basketball game against Pittsburgh on Feb. 10, 2022 at Carmichael Arena in Chapel Hill.

In a physical match with 34 combined fouls, the No. 23 North Carolina women’s basketball team (19-4, 9-4 ACC) defeated Pittsburgh (11-12, 2-10 ACC), 64-54, at Carmichael Arena on Thursday night.

What happened?

The Tar Heels scored first after sophomore forward Anya Poole found sophomore guard Alyssa Ustby cutting in for an easy layup. Ustby knocked down two free throws on the next possession, putting UNC up 4-0.

The Panthers responded with guard Jayla Everett finding forward Amber Brown for an easy pick-and-roll. UNC then went on a 6-0 run, starting with sophomore guard Deja Kelly whipping a pass to the corner on a fast break for a contested 3-pointer from sophomore guard Kennedy Todd-Williams. On the next possession, graduate guard Carlie Littlefield knocked down a trey from the right wing, extending the lead to 10-2 and forcing a timeout. 

Immediately upon checking into the game, junior Eva Hodgson hit back to back threes, while Everett hit a 3-pointer and fast break layup. The first quarter ended with North Carolina up 18-7.

Pittsburgh began to apply more full court pressure in the second quarter, but it didn’t seem to faze North Carolina, as the team held a firm grip on its 11-point lead. Halfway through the second quarter, the score was still 24-13, courtesy of solid minutes from sophomore forward Alexandra Zelaya and first-year forward Destiny Adams. Zelaya and Adams’ hustle chipped in six bench points.

The aggressive Panther defense awarded free throws to Kelly, Todd-Williams and Hodgson, which extended the lead to 30-13. Everett hit her second three, to which Kelly responded with an off-foot, left-handed finger roll. More free throws from Kelly closed out the half, and the teams headed to the locker rooms with a halftime score of 34-18.

Brown and Littlefield traded layups to open up the second half, and Ustby hit a turnaround mid-range shortly after. A few possessions later, Ustby posted up and scored a left-handed scoop. Ustby continued to prove to be a tough defensive matchup for the undersized Panthers, weaving her way into an open stop-and-pop mid-range.

Kelly hit her first 3-pointer of the game from the corner off an Ustyby assist. After only making one field goal on seven attempts in the first half, Kelly scored another basket, this time freezing her defender for a jumper from the left elbow.

WIth the shot clock waning and the Tar Heels having to inbound after a Panther foul, Adams fought her way to a right-hand bank shot off the left corner of the glass. Everett hit her fourth 3-pointer of the game from the right wing, closing off the third quarter with the Tar Heels up 51-34.

The Panthers went on an 8-0 scoring run to open the fourth quarter, with sloppy passes from the Tar Heels gifting Pittsburgh easy fast break opportunities. After guard Dayshanette Harris stopped on a dime for a fast break jumper, head coach Courtney Banghart called a timeout, but elected to send the same rotation out without Kelly.

The relentless Pittsburgh squad scored again, trimming the North Carolina lead to seven points, and Kelly checked into the game. With just under five minutes in regulation remaining, she found Hodgson on the right wing for her third 3-pointer of the game.

Another UNC turnover gave the Panthers an easy fast break layup. On a North Carolina inbound play, Kelly curled around the left elbow, caught the ball, and sank a turnaround jumper to keep the lead at double digits. Center Rita Igbokwe made a drop step move to cut the UNC lead to 56-48.

The Tar Heels kept getting to the charity stripe as they had done all game, and the Panthers kept getting to the basket. But it was too little too late for Pittsburgh, as North Carolina ran out the clock. When the final horn sounded, the scoreboard read 64-54.

Who stood out? 

On a night where North Carolina shot the ball significantly worse than Pittsburgh, it was Hodgson who went a perfect 3-3 from beyond the arc, scoring 14 points and grabbing five rebounds.

Kelly scored a team-high 17 points, but Pittsburgh’s on-ball pressure and physical defensive playstyle made her struggle from the field, as she shot 4-13. However, Kelly shot a perfect 8-8 from the charity stripe, a team-high.

Another Tar Heel in double figures was Ustby, who scored 10 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Ustby’s scoring ability early on in the game, coupled with Hodgson’s nine first half points built a solid UNC lead going into the second half. 

As for Pittsburgh, Everett scored a team-high 18 points, impressively knocking down four of her five 3-pointers. Brown added 14 points and six rebounds.

When was it decided?

Hodgson’s late game dagger from downtown ignited Carmichael Arena and put the game out of the tenacious Panthers’ reach. North Carolina’s hot 4-9 3-point shooting in the first quarter spearheaded a large lead, but Pittsburgh outscored UNC 36-30 in the second half. 

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With the lead down to seven points and the Panthers appearing to find an offensive rhythm, it was Hodgson who scored five points to maintain the Tar Heel lead. 

Why does it matter?

The difference maker in this game was free throws. Pittsburgh shot 40.7 percent from the field, significantly more than North Carolina’s 32.2 percent. However, UNC attempted 26 free throws to Pittsburgh’s four, hitting 20 compared to Pittsburgh’s one made free throw.

In a highly-competitive conference featuring four ranked teams, every ACC win matters. And tonight, the Tar Heels demonstrated yet again that when shots aren’t falling for Kelly or Todd-Williams, a player coming off the bench like Hodgson can fuel the offense.

Moreover, North Carolina’s excellent free throw shooting can be relied on against physical teams and in tighter contests in the future.

When do they play next?

The Tar Heels hit the road for their next matchup at Virginia Tech on Sunday, Feb. 13. Tip-off is at 1 p.m.


@DTHSports | 

Daniel Wei

Daniel Wei is a 2023-24 assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as a senior writer. Daniel is a junior pursuing a double major in business administration and economics.