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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC women’s basketball beats Duke in nailbiter to close out regular season

UNC redshirt senior guard Eva Hodgson (10) dribbles through defenders during the women’s basketball game against Duke on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023, at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

DURHAM, N.C. — The No. 22 North Carolina women’s basketball team (20-9, 11-7 ACC) defeated No. 11 Duke (24-5, 14-4 ACC), 45-41 at a sold-out Cameron Indoor Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

What happened?

UNC drew first blood when junior forward Alyssa Ustby stole Duke guard Celeste Taylor’s pass and scored the fastbreak layup. A few possessions later, Duke answered with corner three from Duke guard Elizabeth Balogun.

Junior guard Kennedy Todd-Williams connected on a fastbreak mid-range jumper and junior guard Deja Kelly hit a pull-up mid-range shot. Taylor answered with a 3-pointer. Duke guard Vanessa de Jesus hit a tough floater, but UNC redshirt first-year guard Kayla McPherson answered with a one-legged fadeaway. Duke forward Mia Heide closed out the first quarter with two scores to give the Blue Devils a 14-8 lead.

Both teams struggled to take care of the basketball but couldn’t capitalize on turnovers. North Carolina chipped at the lead as sophomore forward Destiny Adams drove baseline for a score and McPherson drove and kicked the ball out to first-year guard Paulina Paris for a wide open corner triple.

The Blue Devils scored their first bucket in the second quarter five minutes in when Balogun hit a jumper. Duke center Kennedy Brown scored inside and McPherson’s pull-up three was blocked by Balogun. Paris tried a fastbreak lefty behind-the-back pass to McPherson, but it was stolen by Taylor and Duke extended its lead to 18-13. After another turnover-riddled few minutes, Balogun bullied her way inside to put Duke up 20-13, but Adams hit a timely 3-pointer on the other end. 

Balogun hit a three out of the break and Ustby answered with an inside jumper. Ustby picked up another steal to score a fastbreak layup and Kelly slipped a pass to junior forward Anya Poole to tie it up at 23-23. UNC redshirt senior guard Eva Hodgson picked up a charge on the other end.

Todd-Williams fired an inbounds pass to McPherson, who immediately tapped it to Poole for another layup. de Jesus hit a tough baseline jumper to tie it up at 25-25, and Kelly sank two free throws. Todd-Williams knocked down a pull-up mid-range and de Jesus hit two free throws to close out the third quarter, 29-29.

Taylor, along with all of Duke’s starters, checked into the game to open up the fourth quarter. The Blue Devils erupted for a 7-0 run when Taylor hit a three, Balogun scored inside and guard Shayeann Day-Wilson drained a mid-range jumper.

Ustby temporarily halted Duke's momentum with a jumper from the elbow, but turned it over on the next possession. Another few scoreless minutes from both sides ended when Paris took two trips to the charity stripe and hit all four free throws.

Duke scored, but UNC tied it up at 38-38 when McPherson kicked it out to Todd-Williams, who drained the corner three. Todd-Williams got fouled on a fastbreak and hit consecutive free throws and the Tar Heels came up with another defensive stop. Kelly hit a lefty and-one layup to extend UNC’s lead to 43-38.

Day-Wilson kept the Blue Devils in it with another jumper and Kelly picked up a charging foul on the other end. With 15 seconds left and UNC up 43-40, Day-Wilson fouled Kelly, who sank both free throws. Duke couldn’t score its last possession, sealing the game.

Who stood out? 

No Tar Heels scored in double figures, but it was Kelly and Paris who came up huge at the free throw line down the stretch. Additionally, McPherson had a game-high three assists.

Duke’s Balugon led all scorers with 12 points.

When was it decided?

The rivalry bout went down to the final two possessions, when Kelly hit two free throws with under 15 seconds left to give UNC a four-point lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

Why does it matter?

The Tar Heels spoiled Duke’s endeavor in clinching the No. 1 overall seed in the ACC Tournament while picking up an impressive road win. The win pushed North Carolina one step closer in securing a top-16 seed for the NCAA Tournament, where they could potentially host the first two rounds in Carmichael Arena.

When do they play next?

The Tar Heels await their ACC Tournament seeding upon the conclusion of the regular season. The tournament is played in the Greensboro Coliseum from March 1-5.

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@dthsports |

Daniel Wei

Daniel Wei is a 2023-24 assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as a senior writer. Daniel is a junior pursuing a double major in business administration and economics.