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UNC women's basketball plagued by offensive struggles in loss to Virginia Tech

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UNC senior guard/forward Alyssa Ustby (1) pushes towards the basket during the women’s basketball game against Virginia Tech in Carmichael Arena on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024. UNC fell to Virginia Tech 61-70.

Deja Kelly was open. Probably more than she had been for most of the afternoon.

But with less than a minute left in overtime, the senior guard's triple clanked off the outer rim and bounced back toward the wing.

Senior forward Alexandra Zelaya chased down the rebound, swatting it back to Kelly. Still down by six, senior forward Alyssa Ustby set a quick screen and Kelly dribbled the left for a pull-up three.

Again, nothing.

Missed opportunities proved to be the Achilles' heel for No. 24 North Carolina in its 70-61 overtime loss to No. 17 Virginia Tech on Sunday, marking the Tar Heels' third straight loss. Despite every open look and rehearsed scenario, UNC's shots didn’t fall. North Carolina went 1-8 from the field in overtime and was outscored by VT 16-7 in the five-minute period.

“I don’t know, I feel like we got good shots,” graduate guard Lexi Donarski said. “We got looks that we practice — in practice and outside of practice — they just didn’t fall. I thought for the most part we did what we wanted to, just wish we could have made a couple more shots at the end.”

The problems even followed the Tar Heels to the free throw line. 

Down 58-56 with two minutes left in overtime, sophomore guard Indya Nivar stepped up to the charity stripe with a chance to tie the game. The Stanford transfer went 1-2, and on the next play, Virginia Tech’s Georgia Amoore connected on a 3-pointer. From there, the Hokies closed the game on a 9-4 run and never looked back.

Although North Carolina held Virginia Tech — the ACC's third-best offense at 78 points per game — to just 34 percent shooting, the lack of momentum-building plays for UNC ultimately stunted its comeback efforts in overtime. 

“It’s not like we’re not getting the looks that we like or looks that we want,” Kelly said. “Throughout the 40-minute period — or 45 in this case — I think it just came down to certain plays, making plays and just having the ball in the right people’s hands."

UNC's offensive woes weren't just limited to overtime, though.

In the first half, North Carolina struggled to knock down shots, shooting a lackluster 23 percent and only making one three. Head coach Courtney Banghart said North Carolina was getting good looks, but the team’s inside game was ineffective and no one was shooting “lights out” from beyond the arc.

Even with Kelly and Donarski putting up 26 and 12 points, respectively, their individual efforts weren’t enough to carry the team. UNC's shooting struggles eventually infected them, too — especially Kelly, who made just six of her 24 shots from the field.

While frowning at the stat sheet on the press conference table in front of her, Kelly said she is upset about UNC's three consecutive losses. Still, she hopes the team can use its bye on Thursday to reflect. She wants each individual player to look inward so North Carolina can prepare its offense for its tough matchups to come.  

"Defensively, I think we’re fine," Kelly said. "But offensively, I think that’s where we need it the most. I think this week will be a lot of individual progress and [regrouping]. Collectively, I’m confident that we’ll be able to put it together when the time comes.”

@carolinewills03

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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