During the third quarter of No. 5 seed UNC's second round NCAA tournament matchup against Arizona, the Wildcats were down 15 and looking to stop yet another Tar Heel scoring run.
Star guard Shaina Pellington was driving to the basket, looking for an easy lay-in to get her team's offense going. But what she didn't see was Alyssa Ustby, streaking right behind her, waiting to send the shot out of bounds.
“Ustby’s everywhere,” ESPN broadcast analyst Dan Hughes said.
The sophomore guard certainly was everywhere on Monday night, scoring 12 points on the offensive end. It was her efforts on the defensive end, though, that ultimately helped UNC to the 63-45 victory, notching four steals to go along with 12 rebounds and two blocks — securing her 13th double-double of the season.
The Tar Heels' opponent, the No. 4 seeded Arizona Wildcats, were coming off of a opening-round win over UNLV, where Pellington attacked the basket at will en route to a 30-point performance.
But thanks to a defensive performance anchored by Ustby's stout resilience in the paint, North Carolina limited Arizona to its second-lowest scoring total of the year, holding Pellington to just three points on the Wildcats’ home floor in Tucson.
“We made it a five-on-five game,” head coach Courtney Banghart said. “We made sure that we showed their main favorite actions, and we said this is where they like to iso and we were just like, we’re not having it."
For the fifth time this season, the Tar Heels held their opponent to single-digit points in each of the first two quarters. In an 11-minute scoring drought during the first and second quarter, Arizona went 0-for-13 from the field and committed four turnovers.
“We locked into our principles that we’ve been doing all season," sophomore guard Deja Kelly said. "One of our main themes this game was building a wall and I think we did just that."
Because of this stout defense from the Tar Heels, they were able to go on a 15-0 scoring run during that 11-minute period and accumulate a 14-point lead before Arizona could gain any rhythm.
As the fourth quarter drew to a close and the Tar Heels' victory was sealed, Ustby hugged Banghart tight as the Arizona crowd's chants faded into the background, swallowed by a rising crescendo of "Go, Tar Heels, go!" from the UNC pep band.
Ustby was the heart and soul of a Monday night defense that shocked every Wildcat fan in sight.
“Alyssa’s the motor,” Banghart said. “That kid plays so hard every minute. We would not be sitting here this far along in March without Alyssa Ustby.”
The next step for Ustby and this North Carolina team in its journey to the Final Four is going head-to-head with the same team that UNC faced in its last Sweet 16 appearance in 2015 — the No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks.
The Gamecocks, like Arizona, can put points up on the board in a hurry, maybe better than any team in the country. But if Ustby and the Tar Heels can have a repeat performance of Monday night and even slightly slow down the high-powered Gamecock offense, the Tar Heels could shock the world again.
“Our guys are going to give what we got, and that’s a very good basketball team,” Banghart said.
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