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No. 19 UNC women's basketball cruises past Wake Forest, 71-58, in Sunday afternoon victory

UNC junior guard Deja Kelly (25) looks for a way around her opponent to pass the ball during the women's basketball game against Notre Dame on Sunday, Jan. 8 at Carmichael Arena. UNC beat Notre Dame 60-50.

The No. 19 North Carolina women's basketball team defeated Wake Forest, 71-58, in an afternoon matchup at Carmichael Arena on Sunday.

What happened?

Once again, junior Alyssa Ustby and redshirt senior Eva Hodgson remained out of the lineup because of injury.

Junior guard Deja Kelly scored UNC's first eight points with two midrange jumpers and a four-point play after getting fouled on a corner 3-pointer. While the Tar Heels got off to a hot start offensively, they lagged behind on the defensive end as the Demon Deacons had several open looks from behind the arc and were able to draw fouls to get to the free-throw line.

The teams remained deadlocked for most of the first quarter, but Kelly missed her last four shots of the period as Wake Forest got out to a 20-17 lead. That lead wouldn't hold for long, as UNC started the second quarter with a 9-0 run kickstarted by a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from sophomore forward Destiny Adams.

A fast break layup from Jewel Spear and a 3-pointer from Olivia Summiel gave Wake Forest its first points of the quarter after a four-minute dry spell. With two minutes remaining before the half, Spear made a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from the wing to put the Demon Deacons up, 32-30. Junior guard Kennedy-Todd Williams responded with a triple on the other end, and the two teams traded buckets until halftime. North Carolina held a four-point advantage at the break, 40-36.

Redshirt first-year guard Kayla McPherson picked up her fourth foul just 46 seconds into the third quarter, immediately sending her back to the bench. UNC still started out strong with a 6-0 run, led by forward Anya Poole, to extend the lead to double digits.

When Summiel scored five straight points to cut the lead to six, UNC first-year Paulina Paris hit a triple on the other end to widen the gap. Kelly scored seven third-quarter points to ensure that UNC held a 56-42 lead heading into the final period.

The Tar Heels continued to be relentless with quick scores, and easy baskets in the paint from Teonni Key, Adams and Paris gave UNC a 20-point lead with 6:25 to play.

Who stood out? 

Kelly once again led her team on the offensive end with 24 points six assists. Adams and Paris were solid contributors from the bench with 18 combined points, and Poole had a very efficient performance with eight points on 4-5 shooting.

Spear and Summiel were a two-headed monster for Wake Forest, as the duo combined for 29 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

When was it decided?

Before the fourth quarter started, three points were taken away from Wake Forest to make it a 14-point game. After fast break points from Key, Adams and Paris put the Tar Heels up by 20 points with six minutes remaining, all the Tar Heels had to do was hold on.

Why does it matter?

North Carolina had dropped three of its last four games with Ustby watching from the bench. With this win, the team can breathe a little sigh of relief even without its top rebounder.

With two regular season games remaining, North Carolina is competing for seeding in the ACC Tournament, which begins on March 1. Although they'll have to win out, the Tar Heels still have an opportunity to clinch a top-four seed, which would give them a double-bye in the tournament.

Sunday also marked the team's 10th conference win of the season, which is always an impressive feat in the very competitive ACC.

When do they play next?

The Tar Heels will celebrate senior night against Virginia Tech in Carmichael Arena on Thursday at 8 p.m.


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Lucas Thomae

Lucas Thomae is the 2023-24 sports managing editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as an assistant sports editor and summer editor. Lucas is a senior pursuing a major in journalism and media with a minor in data science.