Facing its first ranked opponent of the season, the No. 18 UNC women’s basketball team (5-1) met No. 16 Kansas State (6-0) for the first time ever in program history and were overcome by the Wildcats, 63-56, earning the Tar Heels their first loss of the season in the Gulf Coast Showcase Tournament.
After just scraping by the Vermont Catamounts on Thursday in a 54-51 win, North Carolina once again struggled to find the basket at the beginning of the game with a 27 percent field goal percentage in the first quarter. Kansas State had a 12-0 run in the first quarter as the Tar Heels worked to find some sort of rhythm on either end of the court.
In dire need of points on the board and any amount of forward momentum going into the second quarter, senior small forward Alyssa Ustby put up two points for the Tar Heels in what appeared to be a broken play just at the end of the first quarter - a play reflective of much of the tournament for UNC - putting North Carolina at an 8-16 deficit.
After struggling further in the second period, North Carolina found itself down 32-22, mirroring its early performance against Vermont. Making its way through the Women’s Gulf Coast Showcase this year, UNC has found itself in a double-digit deficit at halftime in both games.
North Carolina started off the second half on Saturday with the same five starters - Alyssa Ustby, Deja Kelly, Kayla McPherson, Lexi Donarski, and Maria Gakdeng - and this time, the Tar Heels were able to find the basket within the first 90 seconds after redshirt sophomore guard Kayla McPherson made a layup and senior guard Deja Kelly made a three.
At the end of the third period, the Tar Heels found themselves in a better spot, trailing the Wildcats by just five points.
Kansas State players Gisela Sanchez and Serena Sundell both consistently found the basket for the Wildcats throughout the game, ending with 15 and 16 points each. However, Kansas State’s top scorer, senior center Ayoka Lee, who recorded 22 points in Thursday’s game against Western Kentucky, was held to 14 points by the Tar Heels on Friday.
The Tar Heels drew within three points of the Wildcats more than five times in the fourth quarter, but failed to pull ahead due to poor shootings.
“Well, it was good to see our fight,” UNC head coach Courtney Banghart said. “We held them, what, scoreless for seven minutes in the fourth quarter. Got to force 21 turnovers, 13 steals, that’s a game you usually win.”