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No. 24 UNC women's basketball falls to No. 1 South Carolina in third straight loss

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UNC senior guard Deja Kelly (25) catches a pass during the Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023 game against the University of South Carolina in Carmichael Stadium.

The No. 24 North Carolina women’s basketball (5-3) team dropped its third straight game on Thursday night, 65-58, to No. 1 South Carolina (6-0) at Carmichael Arena. 

Early on, North Carolina was able to establish itself in the paint, forcing South Carolina into tough shots and forcing turnovers. However, foul trouble — mainly junior center Maria Gakdeng — and shot selection plagued the Tar Heels in the loss. 

UNC started off the game forcing three straight South Carolina turnovers. The stout defense by the Tar Heels allowed them to jump to a quick 6-0 start in the first quarter.


After the Gamecocks cut the lead to just three, graduate guard Lexi Donarski drained two consecutive 3-pointers to extend the UNC lead to 15-6. A scuffle between senior forward Alyssa Ustby and South Carolina’s Ashlyn Watkins that occurred in the paint continued down the court, with Kelly getting involved, leading to technical fouls on both Kelly and Watkins. 

The Tar Heels, who entered the game ranked fifth nationally in turnover margin, forced six turnovers in the first frame and jumped out to a 19-10 lead at the end of the first quarter. 

“I thought we were really good defensively,” Kelly said. “We were active, we were making them go to their third, fourth, fifth option offensively.”

Ustby made her presence known in the second quarter, bringing in two offensive rebounds for the Tar Heels on the same possession, but UNC was unable to capitalize. Poor shot selection on behalf of North Carolina — the Tar Heels shot just over 22 percent in the second quarter — allowed the Gamecocks to cut into the UNC lead.


“I need us to catch and release quicker,” Banghart said. “I think the fact that we’ve went on, haven’t shot the ball really well yet, I think has us in a half second delay, which isn’t the shots you practice.”


It wasn’t just Ustby who dominated on the boards in the first half, however, as UNC brought down 26 rebounds compared to South Carolina’s 18, helping propel North Carolina to a 29-26 halftime lead. 

“I’m just ready to show up and I’m ready to just contribute in any way I can,” Ustby said. “And tonight called for a more aggressive play and to rebound, try to get us extra possessions and just do whatever I needed to for our team to be as successful as we could.”

Coming out of the break, Ustby had the hot hand, scoring eight of UNC’s 12 points in the quarter. Gakdeng, who was key in establishing UNC’s interior defense in the first quarter, picked up her fourth personal foul just three minutes into the second half. 

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“Maria getting in foul trouble hurt us,” Banghart said. “We were kind of tiptoeing around with some foul trouble there. Two of her fouls on the offensive end are a problem.”


Late in the third quarter, with UNC trailing 43-39, Kelly went down after getting hit driving to the basket and was taken to the locker room. South Carolina outscored the Tar Heels 21-12 in the third quarter to take a 47-41 lead.

In the fourth quarter, North Carolina quickly cut the South Carolina lead to just one after a Ustby kicked to a wide-open Donarski who knocked down the three. After South Carolina was able to stretch the lead to six, the Tar Heels were able to get within two after a Gakdeng layup and Kelly free throw. 

Despite an attempted late-game push by UNC, which saw North Carolina get within three points, South Carolina was able to answer and held on for a 65-58 win. 

 

The Tar Heels will look to get back on track when they take on UNC Greensboro next Wednesday at Carmichael Arena at 7 p.m. 

@mdmaynard74

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com