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No. 23 UNC women's basketball upsets No. 13 Louisville at home, 79-68

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UNC senior guard Deja Kelly (25) dribbles the ball at the women’s basketball game versus Louisville on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024 in Carmichael Arena.

Behind a strong end to the third quarter, the No. 23 North Carolina women’s basketball team (14-5, 6-1 ACC) held off No. 13 Louisville (16-3, 5-1 ACC), 79-68, Sunday afternoon at Carmichael Arena.

UNC won the third quarter 24-13 after the game was tied at halftime, and senior guard Deja Kelly led the Tar Heels with 23 points, including 14 from the line. Senior forward Alyssa Ustby recorded a double-double with 10 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks.

Graduate guard Lexi Donarski started the game hot for the Tar Heels. She scored North Carolina’s first 10 points, including two pure catch-and-shoot triples. But Louisville also started well offensively. At the first media timeout, the Cardinals led Donarski 11-10.

“With Lexi getting the first 10 points just created so much space for everybody else so that we could attack the middle of the floor,” head coach Courtney Banghart said.

The Tar Heels ramped up the defense in the latter half of the first quarter with big blocks by senior forward Anya Poole and redshirt sophomore forward Teonni Key. North Carolina ended the quarter on an 8-0 run. Kelly hit a tough mid-range jumper right before time expired, and the Tar Heels led 22-13.

The Cardinals fought back early in the second quarter to take a 27-25 lead. But then the Tar Heels halted that momentum with a quick 5-0 run, which included a Kelly three and transition layup by Ustby, forcing Louisville to call timeout.

UNC and Louisville traded baskets down the stretch of the half, and the game was tied 36-36 at the break. The Tar Heels won the first quarter by nine before the Cardinals flipped that script in the second.

Louisville started the third quarter well and built a four-point lead twice before North Carolina came back to tie the game, 47-47, at the under-five timeout.

The Tar Heels went on a 13-2 run to end the quarter, created by stifling defense and Kelly’s ability to get to the free throw line. Kelly was 9-10 from the line in the third, and North Carolina created five Cardinals’ turnovers. UNC led 60-49 entering the fourth.

“It really is a whole team effort,” Donarski said about the Tar Heels’ defense. “I thought we did a great job in our gaps, especially as the game progressed, I thought we got even better at it. And just really containing the ball and then finding a way to secure the first rebound.”

Louisville rattled off a 6-0 run in the fourth to cut the UNC lead to six with just over five minutes to play, but Donarski connected again from deep to halt the momentum. Then it was sophomore guard Indya Nivar’s turn to nail a big triple after Louisville had cut it five.

The Cardinals didn’t want to go away, but the Tar Heels saw them off with late buckets by Kelly and Ustby.

“Us really being tough and staying the course throughout these games, especially with how hard our league is, I think that’s been the really important piece,” Kelly said. “Just us locking into who we are.”

The Tar Heels return to action Thursday night when they take on Miami at Carmichael. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m.

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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