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No. 24 UNC women's basketball falls to No. 17 UConn, 76-64, in Hall of Fame Women’s Showcase

The No. 24 UNC women's basketball team huddles during its game against No. 17 UConn at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023. North Carolina lost 76-64.

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – After entering halftime tied, the No. 24 UNC women’s basketball team (6-4, 0-0 ACC) could not withstand a strong third quarter from No. 17 UConn (6-3, 0-0 Big East), losing, 76-64, Sunday evening at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Tar Heels have now played three ranked opponents on the season. They have lost to them all.

Connecticut star Paige Bueckers led all scorers with 26, while UNC junior center Maria Gakdeng recorded a team-high 14 points and 13 boards.

UNC senior guard Deja Kelly drilled a tough fadeaway jumper on the first possession of the game and scored the first six North Carolina points. 

After Kelly’s early explosion, UNC went cold for a stretch and struggled to take care of the basketball. Bueckers got on the board with an and-one, and the game was tied at six midway through the first quarter.

With stifling defense and hot shooting, the Huskies built a 17-4 run that saw them shoot out to a 19-10 lead after the first quarter. 

After turning the ball over eight times in the first ten minutes, the Tar Heels settled in and found a groove in the middle of the second quarter. They took better care of the ball and created easy offense through second-chance and fast-break points.

“Our defensive intensity let us out to transition looks,” Kelly said. “And we got runouts, we got layups.”

UConn led by as many as 11 in the first half, but UNC battled back to tie and then take the lead late in the second quarter. The teams traded buckets down the stretch of the half and the score was tied at 36 at the break. 

The third quarter looked a lot like the first. North Carolina turned the ball over three times in the first two minutes, two of which Bueckers turned into easy layups at the other end, and the Huskies started the quarter on an 8-0 run.

“She’s obviously quite skilled and she’s really experienced,” head coach Courtney Banghart said about Bueckers. “So she’s got a lot, and she’s a top-five draft pick for a reason.”

After the Tar Heels cut the lead to five at the under-five timeout, the Huskies closed the third quarter on a rampant 18-7 run to stretch the lead to 16 entering the fourth.

The Tar Heels fought back in the fourth, trimming the deficit to 10 through a graduate guard Lexi Donarski transition three just past the five-minute mark. Donarski then rattled home a mid-range jumper that made the Huskies’ lead eight. 

But UNC wouldn't get any closer. The lead the Huskies built in the third, combined with injuries, was too much for the Tar Heels to overcome.

“It’s an untold story that we have so many All-Americans that are not playing basketball right now,” Banghart said. “It’s such a bummer.”

North Carolina returns home on Friday when it hosts Western Carolina at 7 p.m.

@dthsports |

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