The No. 5 seed North Carolina women’s basketball team (25-6, 13-5 ACC) continued its NCAA Tournament run with a 63-45 win over No. 4 seed Arizona on Monday at the Wildcats' home court of the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.
Straight from the tip, both teams matched each other in terms of points. Up into the 4:53 mark of the first quarter, both the Tar Heels and Wildcats had just about matched each other in terms of points.
Arizona just had the edge, leading 9-8, partly in thanks due to their 3-point shooting. Two straight makes from beyond the arc gave the Wildcats that one-point lead, but after the 4:53 mark, it was all UNC.
Three turnovers and multiple missed shots, leading to a 5-minute scoring drought for the Wildcats, allowed UNC to take over. North Carolina went on a 6-0 run to finish out the opening quarter and take a 14-9 lead into the second quarter.
To begin the second quarter, the scoring drought for Arizona continued. Every shot they took looked as if it was going to go in, the ball hit the rim and bounced out, keeping the Wildcats from adding onto their point total. For just over six minutes of the second quarter, Arizona failed to score a basket, bringing their scoring drought to 11 minutes – more than an entire quarter.
As for UNC, it seemed as if they would carry their momentum into the quarter after a basket 45 seconds in by graduate guard Carlie Littlefield. For two minutes after, though, they struggled to hold onto the ball and put it into the basket. After free throws from junior guard Eva Hodgson, the Tar Heels found their stroke again, gaining a 23-9 lead on Arizona.
With 3:52 left in the second quarter, Arizona’s Sam Thomas nailed a 3-pointer, giving Arizona its first three points of the quarter and opening the offense back up for the Wildcats. They were able to add five more points, including another 3-pointer from Thomas, but so did the Tar Heels, keeping the Wildcats at bay and holding onto an 11-point lead at the half.
Arizona came into the second half with a sense of urgency, going on a 6-2 run over the course of two and a half minutes, getting within seven points of the Tar Heels. Over the next two minutes, UNC answered right back with another run of their own, this time a 7-2 one.
Five points from sophomore guard Kennedy Todd-Williams and a long two from sophomore guard Deja Kelly put the Wildcats down 12 after they clawed back to within seven, forcing Arizona head coach Adia Barnes into calling a timeout to regroup her team. The Wildcats had the first punch coming out of the timeout, but UNC punched right back. After the initial Arizona bucket, UNC went on a 9-0 run to round out the quarter and to go into the final quarter up 47-27.
To open to the final quarter, North Carolina got a quick layup 13 seconds in but Arizona was unable to answer. Again, Arizona found themselves in a scoring drought, this time lasting just under six minutes. A three-pointer from Wildcats guard Helena Pueyo ended it with just two minutes expired in the fourth quarter.
A possession later, Arizona nailed another three but still were down by double-digits. UNC was able to get their point total up to 54 off free throws and layups but Arizona was slowly creeping back, going on a six-point run and getting to within 17 points. Tight defense from Arizona forced North Carolina head coach Courtney Banghart to call a timeout. However, the timeout didn’t help UNC as the Wildcats defense continued to apply pressure and force the Tar Heels offense to make mistakes.
Arizona got within 13 points but that was as close as they would get. Fouls from Arizona sent UNC to the line where they extended their lead back to 21 points which would hold up until a last-second heave by Arizona went in, putting the final score at 63-45.
Who stood out?
Todd-Williams led the Tar Heels offense in points with 19 off of 7-for-11 shooting in what was a defensive battle. Sophomore guard Alyssa Ustby anchored the UNC defense with four steals and two blocks to hold star guard Shaina Pellington and the dangerous Arizona offense to just 45 points.
When was it decided?
Arizona got to within 13 points with three minutes left but after that, they would score just one more point and UNC would extend their lead, ultimately winning by 18, securing the win and a Sweet 16 bid.
Why does it matter?
After defeating the Wildcats, the Tar Heels will be making their first appearance in the third round of the tournament since 2015. A win over a team that was in the national championship last year proves the talent that this young UNC team has and shows even more how they can keep up with the top teams in the nation.
When do they play next?
With the win, the Tar Heels will face No. 1 seed South Carolina in Greensboro, N.C. on Friday in the Sweet 16. The last time North Carolina made it this far was in 2015, where they also faced the Gamecocks, ultimately losing in a thriller.
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