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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC women's hoops upsets No. 6 N.C. State at home, 80-70

UNC senior forward Alexandra Zelaya (0) shoots during the women’s basketball game against NC State on Feb. 22, 2024 at Carmichael Arena. UNC is up 42-35 at the half.

Behind a complete offensive turnaround, the UNC women’s basketball team (18-9, 10-5 ACC), upset No. 6 N.C. State (23-4, 11-4 ACC), 80-70, on Thursday night in Carmichael Arena. 

Graduate guard Lexi Donarski scored a team-high 23 points to push the Tar Heels to the upset. 

“We locked in on Tuesday and were very clear with how we wanted to play, and I’m so proud they played exactly how we them to play on both ends,” head coach Courtney Banghart said. 

Within the first six minutes of play, the Wolfpack propelled itself to an early advantage through a series of 3-pointers met with weak perimeter defense from the Tar Heels. N.C. State scored three out of its five 3-pointer attempts to possess a 15-9 lead.

Following the media timeout, UNC came out swinging. With less than three minutes remaining in the first quarter, senior forward Alexandra Zelaya opened the offensive flood gates with a 3-pointer on the last second of the shot clock to put the Tar Heels within one possession. On the next possession, Zelaya scored a triple again. After field goals from sophomore guard Indya Nivar and senior guard Alyssa Ustby, Donarski ended the first quarter with a 3-pointer to put the Tar Heels in front, 22-20. 

“Just that mindset of my girls have my back is like, I feel like I could fly at that moment, and so I let the ball fly and it went in,” Zelaya said. 

In the second quarter, the Tar Heels maintained their lead by positioning themselves deep in the paint. Led by junior center Maria Gakdeng, UNC scored 12 of its 18 points second quarter points in the post. Along with their frontcourt success, North Carolina used its lockdown defense to hold the Wolfpack to three successful shots in the second half to end the first up 42-35. 

Opening the second half, N.C. State began to encroach on the Tar Heels. At the two minute media timeout, the Wolfpack worked to quench North Carolina’s offensive fire to make it a one-possession game. Out of the media timeout, UNC found its groove once again with the help of Donarski and Zelaya. To put the nail in the coffin in the third, senior guard Deja Kelly made a buzzer beater to put North Carolina up 61-51. 

Refusing to relent, the Tar Heels continued their hot streak to open the fourth. Behind two 3-pointers from Donarski, North Carolina forced a Wolfpack timeout with seven minutes remaining after taking a 14-point lead. Although N.C. State worked to it an eight-point game, Gakdeng went on a six-point tear late in the fourth to stifle the Wolfpack and complete the 80-70 upset.

“We're in such a load management point that a lot of it is mental and we were really just able to lock in,” Donarski said. “Lock into film, lock into the load that we do get during practice and just going as hard as we can and pushing each other.”

The Tar Heels will face their next contest on the road against No. 8 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, V.a. on Sunday afternoon. 


@dthsports |

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