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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC women's basketball defeats Pitt at home, 75-62

20240215_Skvoretz_UNC-WBBALL-Pitt-156.jpg
UNC graduate student guard Lexi Donarski (20) pushes toward the basket during the women’s basketball game against Pittsburgh in Carmicheal Arena on Friday, Feb. 15, 2024.

The UNC women’s basketball team (16-9, 8-5 ACC) outlasted the Pittsburgh Panthers (7-19, 1-12 ACC) in a 75-62 victory on Thursday evening at Carmichael Arena. Graduate guard Lexi Donarski scored a game-high 20 points, tying her career-high 3-pointer total to push UNC to a win following a cold offensive start. 

“We had kind of two different games,” head coach Courtney Banghart said. “We had the first quarter and then we had the rest of the game. If you take out the first quarter, which I know is a big if, a lot of good numbers that we saw.”

During the first quarter, the Tar Heels and the Panthers struggled to find the net. After Pitt took an early 4-0 lead in the first minute, UNC worked to catch up. While North Carolina came up empty in the first three minutes, senior forward Alyssa Ustby made a layup to end the scoring drought. 

However, offensive woes continued on both sides of the floor. Due to their seven turnovers, the Panthers were held scoreless for seven minutes. The Tar Heels faced a similar fate coming up empty in the last three minutes. Although the Tar Heels held a 9-6 lead at the end of the first quarter with the help of made free throws, they only made three of their 16 field goal attempts.

In the second quarter, both teams gained some offensive rhythm. During the first two minutes, Ustby and junior center Maria Gakdeng made quick layups to extend the Tar Heels’ lead to seven. The Panthers started warming up, scoring five points in the following two minutes while holding North Carolina scoreless for three minutes.

Although senior guard Deja Kelly scored a quick 3-pointer, Pitt’s Liatu King made two jumpers on back-to-back possessions. After a Pitt jumper from behind the arc a minute later, the Panthers took the lead. While Ustby and senior forward Anya Poole helped to extend North Carolina’s lead back to four, the Panthers began to find success from behind the arc making five of their six shots in the second quarter to take a four-point lead. Before halftime, the Tar Heels cut Pitt’s lead to one possession to end the half down 29-27. 

“I told them at the halftime or even before the game that you’re three to five possessions away from having a very different record,” Banghart said.

Behind the efforts of Donarski from behind the arc, the Tar Heels retook the lead in the third quarter. In the first five minutes of play, Donarski made three 3-pointers forcing Pitt to call a timeout after UNC took an 11-point lead.

After struggling from behind the arc for the entire night, Donarski admitted she is happy with her performance in the third quarter. 

"If I ever pass one [3-pointer] up, I had almost every person on the team like, ‘No, we want you to take that shot,’ so it feels good that my teammates trust me and I trust them,” Donarski said.

Following the timeout, the Panthers refused to relent going on an 11-0 run to tie the game 46-46. Although the Tar Heels found some brief relief behind two made free throws from Kelly and a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Indya Nivar, the Panthers continued to attack the paint without the presence of a four-foul Gakdeng. Pitt ended the third quarter only down 51-48. 

“We knew that Pitt is pretty good coming out of the half and the third quarter, so we had to buckle down and stay disciplined on our defense and then keep our flow offensively,” Ustby said.

Donarski and redshirt sophomore Teonni Key attacked during the opening minutes of the fourth quarter to push the Tar Heels ahead. Ustby helped to extend the lead to seven with a quick layup forcing Pitt to take a timeout with UNC up 60-53. With a little over five minutes remaining in the half, Gakdeng fouled out of the game. Even without its starting center, North Carolina held onto the lead behind two crucial 3-pointers from Donarski and Nivar to extend UNC’s lead to 13 points. 

“There [were] just so many changes that were very different from the last four games to now and so I feel like we took a step forward today,” Donarski said. “We still have things we want to get better at obviously, but I was happy with our play today.”

The Tar Heels will go on the road on Sunday to take on Wake Forest at 6 p.m. in Winston-Salem.

@_emmahmoon

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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