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Donarski's six threes against Pitt help UNC women's basketball end four-game losing streak

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UNC graduate student guard Lexi Donarski (20) celebrates a three-point shot during the women’s basketball game against Pittsburgh in Carmicheal Arena on Friday, Feb. 15, 2024. UNC wins 75-62.

Lexi Donarski said she could finally breathe a sigh of relief. 

After missing her first five 3-pointers against Pittsburgh on Thursday, the graduate guard caught the ball on the left wing with two minutes to go in the second quarter and let it fly.

Bang.

Not only did the 3-pointer help North Carolina retake the lead from the Panthers, it also marked the beginning of a hot streak for Donarski, who erupted for six triples — her third time doing so this season. Donarski’s 20 points — 17 of which came in the second half — helped the Tar Heels to a 75-62 win over Pittsburgh, finally putting an end to a four-game losing skid.

"Those are the shots that we work on all the time," Donarski said. "If I ever passed one up, I had almost every person on the team like, ‘No, we want you to take that shot.’”

The relief extended to more than just one quarter of missed shots. Since the win over Louisville in January, Donarski has not made more than two 3-pointers in a game. Yet on Thursday, she shot nearly 43 percent from deep — a vast improvement compared to her 32 percent clip from the last five games. 

Senior forward Alyssa Ustby — who flirted with another triple-double with 14 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds — said she was never worried. She said that the whole team has worked with Donarski on her confidence, encouraging her to keep looking for shots. Even when Donarski misses just one shot, head coach Courtney Banghart said the graduate guard gets frustrated with herself.

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UNC senior guard/forward Alyssa Ustby (1) takes a layup during the women’s basketball game against Pittsburgh in Carmicheal Arena on Friday, Feb. 15, 2024. UNC wins 75-62.

“We’ve seen her work since the summer and every single day — before shootaround, during shootaround, after shootaround — getting up shots,” Ustby said. “When you see someone work that hard for it, you want them so much to succeed in the game.” 

Every time Donarski passes up an open look, Ustby said the entire bench shares a look and mumbles, ‘Darn it.’ 

And on Sunday, the passed-over opportunities had to be minimized. Because of Pitt's zone defense, the Tar Heels got more open looks from beyond the arc. It was just a matter of getting the Iowa State transfer into the right spots. 

So when Donarski missed her first look and started trying to find other shots for her teammates, Banghart said the entire team implored her to keep taking open ones.

It worked. A minute into the third quarter and the score tied 29-29, Ustby found Donarski in front of the UNC bench. 

Swish. 

Then, once again, Donarski knocked down back-to-back shots in under a minute — one from the top of the key, one from the corner. Quickly, she was on her way to an explosive 17-point second half performance.

“Lexi is a great sniper,” Ustby said. “She’s toeing the 3-point line. As someone that likes to work inside, it’s literally so fun. It’s so fun to me to zip it out to her and have her shoot.”

For a North Carolina team that struggled with offensive consistency in its last four games, Donarski's shooting will be vital in UNC’s pursuit to remain in the win column. With the help of her hot shooting, the Tar Heels improved their shooting to 43 percent from three and 44 percent from the field.

And for Donarski, the team's improvements are more important than her individual performance. 

“We came out with an entirely different energy on both offense and defense,” Donarski said. “The pace of our cuts, how active we were with and without the ball on offense, the way that the ball moved, there was just so many changes that were very different from the last four games to now. I feel like we took a step forward today.”

@carolinewills03

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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