Standing in Carmichael Arena’s makeshift media room, awaiting a postgame interview with NCAA.com, UNC first-year guard Paulina Paris could barely contain her excitement.
"Top-five win, top-five win,” she chanted as she wiggled from side to side.
Paris had every right to celebrate on Sunday night, as the rookie came off the bench to carry the No. 22 UNC women’s basketball team to a 60-50 upset win over No. 4 Notre Dame. Her career-high 16 points led the team and were crucial down the stretch as UNC beat its second top-five team of the season.
Eleven of Paris’ points were scored in the fourth quarter, in which Paris single-handedly outscored Notre Dame over a four-minute period.
“I was just trying to do what I could to help the team win,” Paris said. “When I was open, I drove, I shot and I tried to find my teammates. Once the first shot went in, it was easy from then on.”
After being subbed in for redshirt senior Eva Hodgson with 6:28 remaining in the third quarter, Paris didn’t leave the game. She went on to play a total of 24 minutes — the most for her in a game since UNC’s 93-25 win over South Carolina State on Nov. 16.
Despite the fact that Paris scored UNC’s first 11 points of the final quarter, Banghart admitted after the game that there wasn’t necessarily a plan to find Paris at the end of the game.
“I think the biggest thing with P(aris) is that we trust her,” Banghart said. “She doesn’t go out there and just do her own thing. She goes out there and has a high level of communication with me and throughout the game. She has a high understanding of what we’re trying to do.”
Notre Dame head coach Niele Ivey said her team had been “preparing all week” for UNC’s scorers, and she acknowledged that the Fighting Irish lost Paris, especially in transition.
“I thought she came out with a ton of confidence,” Ivey said. “She was 3-for-4 from the 3-point line. We just didn’t do a good job containing her. I think she got whatever she wanted. She got to the rim, she made wide-open looks. She was a really big momentum booster for them. I thought she played really well.”
Aside from her late-game heroics, Paris also provided timely buckets throughout the rest of the game.
Following a 10-2 run by the Fighting Irish that gave Notre Dame a 23-19 lead, Paris hit a timely 3-pointer with just over a minute before halftime to bring UNC within one point. This brought the crowd to its feet, and junior forward Alyssa Ustby soon recorded a steal at the other end of the floor.
Banghart credited Paris’ impact to her preparation on the bench.
“She learns by watching the team in front of her,” Banghart said. “She’s not just at the game like y’all are. She’s actually watching and how she can impact it and she finds her spots.
Paris also stepped up for the Tar Heels against Virginia Tech, recording a similar performance with a nine-point fourth quarter that featured a 3-pointer and various shifty drives to the basket.
However, the performance didn’t outshine the 68-65 loss UNC suffered in Blacksburg. After another loss on the road at Miami on Thursday and an 0-3 start to conference play, the team held a players-only meeting in the North Carolina locker room on Friday.
"We're just like, 'We're tired of losing,'" junior forward Anya Poole said. "We can't keep saying the same thing, not changing anything and wondering why we're losing."
Paris seemed to take the team's message personally, as she was laser-focused on Sunday to help the Tar Heels earn their first ACC win this season.
“It was nice,” Paris said. “I mean, again, I’m just trying to do whatever this team needs to win and we pulled out a top-five win so I’m really happy about that.”
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