That’s how many games the UNC women’s basketball team had lost consecutively to N.C. State heading into its Sunday afternoon matchup in Carmichael Arena.
But by the end of the afternoon, which culminated in a 56-47 win over the No. 11 Wolfpack, the No. 22 Tar Heels solidified their own streak with three straight victories against ACC opponents.
Although the victory was not particularly pretty — it was the lowest-scoring game either of the teams had played thus far in the season, with both sides shooting under 30 percent — North Carolina once again found a way to win, speaking to the resilient and gritty nature of the team.
Last season, despite holding a 33-27 halftime lead in their matchup at Carmichael Arena, the Tar Heels were not able to close out the game. UNC fell in a 66-58 loss that seemed to burden the team for the rest of the season.
This year, with past North Carolina women’s basketball stars sitting courtside in honor of Alumni Day, the team dominated in the fourth quarter by outscoring NCSU 25-15 to defeat the Wolfpack for the first time since 2021.
“I mean, this game — it's a rivalry game and everybody comes up to play in this one so it's just something special,” junior forward Alyssa Ustby said. “To have the alums here means a lot, because they played in big games like this as well, so we knew in order to honor them we need to come out with a win.”
In the end, the combination of momentum from the team's two-game winning streak, a rousing show of support and standout performances from players like Ustby and sophomore forward Destiny Adams proved to make the difference in the afternoon showdown. Ustby put up a career-high 18 rebounds — 14 of which came in the second half — and Adams sank a pair of clutch 3-point jumpers to clinch the win for UNC.
“We needed the win against State,” Adams said. “We had to beat them.”
The win was an extension of the solid play UNC had showcased over the past week. The team eked out a come-from-behind victory over Virginia on Thursday night and also earned a statement win by defeating then No. 4 Notre Dame last Sunday.
At times, neither of those victories looked pretty, but according to head coach Courtney Banghart, securing the win was all that mattered.
“We don't really care how the game goes as long as we get one more point than the other team, which we did, so we’re certainly happy to have another ranked win under our belt,” she said.
The team needs to capitalize on this momentum to come away with its second straight rivalry win when the Tar Heels take on No. 13 Duke on Thursday. With the pressure continuing to mount, it is important for the team to lean on its gritty ability to pull out late wins.
Triumphing against the Blue Devils would not only give the Tar Heels the long-awaited winning conference record that they have been seeking, but would also mean something to the team on a personal level. Banghart recounted how much the UNC-Duke rivalry meant to her, remembering the excitement she felt the first time she watched the storied programs face-off as a child.
The ability to take part in such a rich tradition is something that means a lot not only to Banghart, but to the entire team.
“The fact that we’re a part of it is kind of mind-boggling,” Banghart said. “It will be a great honor to women’s basketball games.”
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