The No. 15 North Carolina women's basketball team (15-5, 6-3 ACC) bested Pittsburgh (7-11, 0-9 ACC) on the road, 72-57, Thursday night for their sixth consecutive conference victory.
Junior forward Alyssa Ustby immediately put two points on the board for UNC with an under-the-basket layup after North Carolina won the tip. Pittsburgh fought back with a layup of their own to tie the game. From there, both teams traded points back and forth in a steady manner through the first quarter.
Junior guard Deja Kelly got off to a hot start, sinking back-to-back three pointers in the early minutes of the game. Pittsburgh forward Liatu King was up to the challenge though, and recorded eight points of her own in the first quarter. At the 10 minute mark, Pittsburgh led 21-19, after the teams had been tied seven times.
The second quarter saw the panthers gaining steady momentum while increasing their defensive pressure, which caused the Tar Heels to go cold. The two-three zone defense worked to shut down the scoring abilities of go-to UNC guards, and led to multiple shot-clock violations from North Carolina. A quick five points off the hands of first-year guard Paulina Paris kept the Tar Heels in the game, but the consistency of the Panthers proved insurmountable and the half ended with UNC trailing by four points, 33-29.
Kelly got North Carolina back within two at the start of the second half to make the score 33-31 in Pittsburgh's favor. The Panthers responded with a 6-0 run to give them an eight point lead — their largest of the game. UNC counteracted this by feeding the ball multiple times to junior forward Anya Poole in the post, but was only able to capitalize on a few of these plays due to the defensive efforts of Pittsburgh.
However, the Panthers began to struggle offensively themselves in the second half of the third quarter, which allowed the Tar Heels to slowly creep back and end the third period tied once more at 44-44.
North Carolina finally found its momentum in the fourth, dominating play to go on a 17-1 run in the first six minutes of the quarter. Their monumental fourth quarter continued, with UNC shooting 75 percent from the field to emerge with the 15 point victory.
Who stood out?
Kelly once again proved herself invaluable to the team, knocking down 10 points in the first half and 13 in the second for a team high of 23.
Utsby also put in a strong effort for the Tar Heels, recording 16 points and 11 rebounds for yet another double-double.
When was it decided?
The game was neck-in-neck throughout the first half, with the biggest lead of the night never exceeding six. It looked like the Panthers had finally gotten the upper-hand at the beginning of the third quarter when they had extended their lead to eight, but UNC clawed their way back to end the quarter knotted.
North Carolina demonstrated why it is the No. 15 team in the nation in the final quarter, pulling definitely away from Pittsburgh with a 28-13 run to the win.
Why does it matter?
The win today marks the sixth ACC victory in a row for the Tar Heels, after beginning conference play 0-3. The last time the Tar Heels have achieved such a feat was in 2013, when they opened conference play 6-0.
This solidifies North Carolina as a formidable force in the ACC and demonstrates the teams consistency and ability to keep finding ways to win, even when trailing at half. This ability is something that they will need in order to make an impact in the postseason.
When do they play next?
North Carolina next takes the court on Sunday, January 29 to face Clemson on the road. Tipoff is set for 4 p.m.
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