UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Indya Nivar slammed the ball into the ground.
Paige Bueckers had just drawn an offensive foul, hit the hardwood and roared. The play was sloppy. Ugly, even. A sequence that began with a Nivar defensive rebound turned into a crucial charge call with six minutes remaining.
A spurt of energy, a sparkle of hope and then nothing.
It’s a trend UNC is far too familiar with. The latest case? The No. 24 Tar Heels’ 76-64 loss to No. 17 UConn in the Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Showcase at Mohegan Sun Arena, capping off a trio of defeats in ranked matchups this season. In each game, North Carolina has contended but has yet to pull off a signature non-conference win.
First, it was a loss to Kansas State. Head coach Courtney Banghart chalked that one up to cold temperatures: “I’m not joking when I say I had hand warmers in my pockets.” Then, in a loss to top-ranked South Carolina, Maria Gakdeng’s foul trouble limited UNC’s rotation in the post.
And on Sunday — not even two months removed from the 2023 ACC Tipoff at which Banghart reveled in UNC’s new level of depth — the head coach lamented to the media about the difficulties of beating “another good team with five players.”
“It just requires too much energy and whatnot," Banghart said. "We were slow to get open. We were a little bit lackadaisical on the ball. There’s a mental fatigue in a game like this.”
The mental fatigue, arguably, was early-onset. In the first quarter, UNC committed eight of its eventual 19 turnovers on the game, and UConn jumped out to a 19-10 lead.
The Tar Heels needed to settle down. Banghart said it herself, speaking to ESPN’s Holly Rowe after the opening frame.