Coming off of its first loss of the season to No. 16 Kansas State, the No. 18 UNC women’s basketball team (5-2) faced Florida Gulf Coast (5-2) for the first time in program history. The Tar Heels lost against the Eagles, 65-64, in the third-place game at the Gulf Coast Showcase, dropping back-to-back non-conference games for the first time since December 2018.
Entering Sunday, both UNC and Florida Gulf Coast had averaged 69.3 points per game so far this season. After dropping the game to Kansas State, 63-56, yesterday, North Carolina’s offensive struggles continued into the beginning of Sunday’s game.
FGCU opened the game with a 4-0 lead, but North Carolina rebounded quickly to tie the game up early in the first quarter. UNC junior center Maria Gakdeng was a bright spot for the Tar Heels early, with eight points in the first quarter after going scoreless last game. She wasn’t met with much offensive help, as her team struggled to find the net and trailed by five after the first quarter.
North Carolina senior small forward Alyssa Ustby struggled on both sides of the ball, recording three personal fouls in the first quarter and a half after fouling out in Saturday’s loss. UNC redshirt sophomore guard Kayla McPherson also had three fouls in the first half, limiting the Tar Heels’ options early with two starters having to miss minutes due to early foul trouble.
With the Heels trying to gain any sort of momentum, North Carolina senior captain Deja Kelly stepped up and scored multiple field goals in the 2nd, finishing with 14 points in the first half, tying Gakdeng for the team lead. The Heels battled back to earn a 33-31 lead, their first lead at half all tournament and their first lead since very early on in the first quarter.