The No. 8 North Carolina women’s basketball team (5-0) beat No. 18 Oregon (4-1), 85-79, in a frenetic top-25 dogfight to cap off the first semifinal of the Phil Knight Invitational.
A normally reliable North Carolina defense collapsed countless times in the first half. Aiming to stop Oregon guards Te-Hina Paopao and Endyia Rogers from shooting 3-pointers off pick-and-rolls, UNC’s roll defenders stepped up high and relied on a third defender to cover Oregon bigs Grace VanSlooten and Phillipina Kyei.
This created open threes for Oregon players whom the help defenders left. Paopao benefited most, sinking three of Oregon’s five 3-pointers in the first half.
The Tar Heels kept roll defenders low on VanSlooten and Kyei in the second quarter, but that allowed Paopao and Rogers to sink pull-up 3-pointers.
Oregon’s fast transition attack created driving lanes to the basket, with 24 of Oregon’s 44 first-half points coming inside the paint.
To get back into the game, the normally egalitarian UNC offense prescribed a high dose of Deja Kelly pick-and-roll, the play providing a great share of the junior guard’s 12 first-half points and four assists.
For the third quarter, UNC adjusted how its guards would defend the ball handler in order to trap Oregon’s ball handlers without over-helping. Still, the Ducks drew help using VanSlooten and Kyei’s post scoring threat to attract Tar Heel defenders and create open shots.
No matter the defensive breakdowns, however, the Tar Heels willed their way to score.
Even when down 50-39, forcing six Oregon turnovers with the trap defense and fighting for loose balls and offensive rebounds got UNC back into the game. The Tar Heels ended the third quarter with eight offensive boards to Oregon’s three and ahead on the scoreboard 56-55.
Oregon continued cutting up the North Carolina defense for quality shots. UNC’s answer on offense? Eva Hodgson. After three quarters, the graduate guard had only scored seven points on 2-7 shooting. Then came the fourth quarter.
Every Oregon basket seemed to be met by Hodgson bullying her way to the free-throw line or finding space for a 3-pointer. 14 points from three 3-pointers and five free-throw makes kept UNC toe-to-toe with the Ducks until the last two minutes.
In the clutch, the Tar Heel defense finally came alive, stopping the Ducks from adding to their 75 points on three consecutive possessions and allowing UNC to seal the game at the line.
Who stood out?
Pitching in three assists to make it seven for the game, Kelly’s influence as a distributor remained, but her scoring faded with only five points in the second half.
Kelly was assisted by Hodgson’s 17 second-half points and junior forward Alyssa Ustby’s 19 points for the game, helping North Carolina fight back from Oregon’s scoring runs.
When was it decided?
With UNC leading 78-75 and after Oregon missed a contested 3-pointer, sophomore forward Destiny Adams rewarded head coach Courtney Banghart’s decision to play her at center for the majority of the second half. Adams’ pass deflection led to a loose ball scrap, and the possession arrow gave UNC the ball back.
Two made free throws by UNC and an Oregon timeout later, Kelly baited an offensive foul from Oregon’s Rogers, giving the Tar Heels the ball back. Hodgson then sank two free throws, putting the game out of reach.
Why does it matter?
In their first matchup against a top-25 opponent, North Carolina resisted the Ducks’ offensive surges by finding different ways to score—be it through Hodgson and Kelly pick-and-rolls or forcing turnovers and attacking in transition.
A more solid defense would have been desired, but the Tar Heels will be satisfied with 17 points off 18 Oregon turnovers and their general offensive prowess against a physical, speedy, 18th-ranked Oregon side.
When do they play next?
North Carolina will advance to the final of the Phil Knight Invitational, facing off against the winner of Iowa State vs. Michigan State on November 27 at 7:30 pm.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.