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UNC women's basketball makes adjustments, avoids upset to Davidson

UNC senior guard/forward Alyssa Ustby (1) prepares for a rebound after a free throw during the women’s basketball game between North Carolina and Davidson in Carmicheal Arena on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023. UNC wins 74-70.

Charlise Dunn was on a tear.

After netting a corner three to cut then-No. 16 North Carolina's lead to one point, the sophomore guard hit another triple on Davidson's next possession to give the Wildcats their first lead of the game.

Despite the ensuing chaos — the Tar Heels went 6-14 on free throws in the fourth quarter and had no field goals in the final two and a half minutes  — UNC narrowly avoided the upset in a 74-70 win. North Carolina had numerous attempts to put the game away throughout Sunday night, but hot shooting from the Wildcats forced the Tar Heels to make unexpected adjustments.

“Usually, if a team makes 10 threes, you don't win that game,” head coach Courtney Banghart said. “And so, there were a lot of big plays down the stretch. A lot of not so good plays down the stretch. But for a relatively new roster, how they handle adversity is a good sign."

The setbacks began before the game even started. Earlier that day, UNC found out senior forward Anya Poole, who was listed as day-to-day with a lower leg injury, would sit out the contest. With the veteran cornerstone sidelined, the Tar Heels were forced into small-ball lineups with 6-foot-1 senior Alyssa Ustby at the five.

UNC wasn’t prepared to run small ball for extended periods. The Tar Heels even played some zone defense, which Banghart said they hadn’t practiced with the small lineups either.

“I like that Ustby’s in the game, that makes me happy,” Banghart said. “In terms of what do I like about that lineup, I can learn to like it. I liked it a lot last year, but I like to practice it if we're going to play it.”

UNC senior guard/forward Alyssa Ustby (1) tries to block her opponent from scoring during the women’s basketball game against Davidson in Carmicheal Arena on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023. UNC wins 74-70.

It wasn't an ideal lineup, and after Dunn’s 3-pointer put Davidson in front, the two teams exchanged leads for the next four minutes. With 18 seconds to play, senior guard Deja Kelly was fouled with UNC up, 70-69.

The career 78.4 percent free-throw shooter missed both. Ustby corralled the rebound and kicked it out to graduate transfer Lexi Donarski, who was fouled. Donarski, an 85.1 percent career free-throw shooter, stepped up to the stripe and missed both. This time, Maria Gakdeng collected the offensive rebound. After being fouled, the worst career free-throw shooter of the trio, at a mere 55.9 percent, sank both shots to ice the game for the Tar Heels.

“I think we just knew that we needed to close the game out and that meant going harder than we had been going before,” Gakdeng said. “So, Alyssa getting that rebound, then me, that whole sequence — I feel like that was just grit at the end of the game, just making sure we're going hard.”

Donarski got even got the chance to get those two misses back at the line, and did just that in the last nine seconds to make it a two-possession game.

UNC graduate student guard Lexi Donarski (20) takes a jump shot during the women’s basketball game against Davidson in Carmicheal Arena on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023. UNC wins 74-70.

When UNC tried to pull away on Sunday night, Davidson pushed back.

Problem after problem emerged, but the Tar Heels managed to find a solution every time.

“One shot didn't change it,” Donarski said. “There were a lot of big shots, including Maria's free throws. I just think that we trust each other a lot and we're comfortable with whoever is taking that shot.”


@dthsports |

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