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Alyssa Ustby's 25-point double-double carries UNC women's hoops to win over Wake Forest

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UNC senior guard/forward Alyssa Ustby (1) drives toward the basket during the women’s basketball game against Wake Forest in the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2024.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.  — The North Carolina women’s basketball team (17-9, 13-5 ACC) defeated Wake Forest (4-22, 0-14 ACC) on Sunday, 58-50. 

The Tar Heels’ early lead and strong rebounding effort gave them an instant advantage – one they continued to build on in the remaining three quarters. UNC capitalized on mismatches inside and scored a total of 34 points from the paint. Senior forward Alyssa Ustby led the way with a double-double with 25 points and 10 rebounds.

Ustby knocked down a corner three on the first play and immediately set the tone for the game. The Tar Heels relied on their endurance early on, consistently beating Wake Forest down the floor and converting on fast break opportunities. 

Senior guard Deja Kelly snapped a pass through the defense to Ustby, who got to the rim after beating her defender on a backdoor. The two combined for 12 of the team’s first 20 points. 

“With these two in charge, I have great confidence,” head coach Courtney Banghart. “But we have to go out and do it. They need to regroup and get ready to lock in and carry over our practice mechanisms into the game plan.”

On the boards, junior forward Maria Gakdeng and senior forward Anya Poole were big for North Carolina. Gakdeng and Poole each fought for offensive rebounds, giving UNC several extra scoring chances.  

North Carolina could not score in the first four minutes of the second quarter. Finally, Ustby found room down the lane and laid it off the glass for two. On the following possession, graduate guard Lexi Donarski found space of her own on a fast break and banked in a floater. 

Overall flustered play led to six fouls and seven turnovers in the second quarter. Heading into halftime, UNC led Wake Forest, 31-20. 

“24 turnovers, quite frankly, is too many,” Banghart said. “Too many dribbling errors, too many passing errors, too much holding the ball a little bit too long. We got to clean up the turnovers.”

In the third quarter, UNC’s top three scorers – Kelly, Ustby and Gakdeng – each picked up their third foul. The Demon Deacons took quick advantage and cut the lead to six points, the closest they came all night. 

Ustby answered. 

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On the offensive end, she was able to bank a layup and simultaneously draw the foul. Ustby’s energy continued to be a source of fuel for the Tar Heels. Ustby’s 25-point performance serves as a new career high. 

“[Alyssa] completely dominated and I think you just see her confidence go up, specifically in the past few games which has been great to see as her teammate,” Kelly said. 

In the fourth quarter, North Carolina held on to the lead. A deep three from Kelly with under two minutes to play helped seal the victory and spoil senior night for the Demon Deacons – a team that has yet to win an ACC matchup. 

The Tar Heels will return to Chapel Hill on Thursday to host N.C. State at 8 p.m.

@mayawaid

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com