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The Daily Tar Heel

No. 16 UNC women's basketball defeats Gardner-Webb, 102-49, in season-opener

UNC senior forward Alyssa Ustby (1) shoots the ball during the basketball game against Gardner Webb at Carmichael Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023.

The No. 16 North Carolina women’s basketball team (1-0) routed the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs (0-1), 102-49, in its season-opener at Carmichael Arena on Wednesday night. During the debut of what is essentially a brand new team, transfer sophomore guard Indya Nivar led all Tar Heels in scoring with 17 points on 7-13 shooting.

Despite having eight new faces, two familiar ones shined in the opening minutes of Wednesday’s season opener. Senior guard Deja Kelly drew first blood with a mid-range shot near the free-throw line. On the next possession, she found the same look to extend the lead to four. Senior forward Alyssa Ustby followed the lead of her veteran teammate with an easy layup off a fast break. 

Before the first media timeout, the Tar Heels continued to dominate in the paint to the tune of 12-6. However, off six different 3-point attempts, UNC failed to make one. 

Following the break, the Tar Heels quickly put those fears to rest, with sophomore guard Paulina Paris and Kelly hitting 3-pointers. To help put the final nail in the coffin for long-range concerns, Nivar made a half-court shot at the buzzer to end the first period and put UNC up 24-12.

“I never did that before in a basketball game so it’s pretty exciting,” Nivar said. 

With a wide smile on her face, Ustby could only describe the long shot as “awesome.”

As the newness of her first North Carolina basketball game wore off, another fresh face began to show out as the clock began to tick during the second quarter. Of junior center Maria Gakdeng’s three shot attempts, she made all three to help secure a double-digit lead.

By making free throws, focusing on attacking the rim, and having the tandem of new and old working together, the Tar Heels exited the half up, 45-26. 

But despite this lead, UNC only made one 3-point shot in the second quarter in nine attempts. With only four successful shots finding the net, the Tar Heels sported a 17.4 3-point percentage heading into halftime. 

A completely different team took the court at the beginning of the third period. Behind energized graduate guard Lexi Donarski, the Tar Heels boasted an improved 66.3 field goal percentage and a 66.7 3-point percentage. After missing every 3-point attempt in the first half, Donarski made all four in the third quarter, ending with 14 points on the night.

Head coach Courtney Banghart credits this change to the collective support of the team. 

“We’ve seen [Donarski] make so many shots and we’ve seen her miss some shots, right?” Banghart said. “And her teammates just implore her to just keep being her. I really think in a lot of ways it’s easier to do things when you know that these guys have your back.”

With the added versatility of success behind the arc, UNC entered the fourth quarter up 85-37.

While the Tar Heels suffered more shooting strifes in the final ten minutes of the game and only ended with a 27 3-point percentage, the third quarter acted as a preview of what they can be at peak form — Donarski hitting from behind the arc, the veteran duo of Kelly and Ustby firing and increased depth overall.

When asked about the 3-point talent of her team, Banghart laughed. 

“I don’t think had you shown me that we would shoot 27 percent from three, I would have necessarily believed you,” she said. “But they’re going to have to prove that’s not who they are, but that’s what they were today.”

Even with shooting woes, Ustby is not worried about the future of this team. 

“I would say a cool thing about this group is that everybody’s hungry to compete and I think that’s a piece that we needed a little bit more of last year,” she said. “So we’re just super excited and ready to take on every new challenge as it comes.”

The Tar Heels will return to Carmichael Arena this Sunday at 6 p.m. to play Davidson College.


@dthsports |

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