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'We didn't start the game well': UNC women's basketball falls to No. 8 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg

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UNC senior guard Deja Kelly (25) shoots a jump shot during the UNC women's basketball game against No. 8 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024. Photo courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications.

BLACKSBURG, Va. – The UNC women’s basketball team (18-10, 10-6 ACC) fell to No. 8 Virginia Tech (23-4, 14-2 ACC), 74-62, on Sunday afternoon. 

Behind a season-high tying 34-point performance from Virginia Tech’s center Elizabeth Kitley, the Tar Heels were never able to recover from an early 16-point deficit after only scoring five points in the first quarter – the lowest-scoring quarter this season. 

“It will be more telling once we are able to rewatch this game, but just initial thoughts [are] that our shot selection probably wasn’t what we really wanted,” UNC graduate guard Lexi Donarski said.

The Hokies completely iced the Tar Heels in the first quarter. Unable to find success in the post, Virginia Tech forced the Tar Heels to shoot around the perimeter or take risky shots in the paint. Behind their defense and a dominant 57 percent field goal percentage, the Hokies took an early 21-5 lead. 

“We didn’t start the game well,” North Carolina head coach Courtney Banghart said. “We had three turnovers in the first three minutes of the game [and] dug ourselves a big hole. Imagine if you could just take away the first quarter.” 

While the Tar Heels found more offensive success in the second quarter, they were plagued by Kitley. The graduate center scored all of Virginia Tech’s 12 second-quarter points to maintain the Hokies’ lead. 

UNC senior guard Deja Kelly worked to offset the center’s rhythm by scoring 14 points of her own. As the half drew to a close, Kelly scored a buzzer-beater triple from the Virginia Tech logo to draw the Tar Heels within six points of the Hokies. 

“The talk at halftime was just how much that second quarter was a push for us and how we just had to come out in the third quarter punching in the same way,” Kelly said. “Moving, getting out in transition, and getting the stops.”

In the third quarter, Virginia Tech senior guard Georgia Amoore erupted, going on a six-point tear in the first four minutes of play. Graduate guard Lexi Donarski worked to keep pace, scoring five points of her own to keep the Hokies’ lead under 10. 

Following a three-minute scoring drought, the Tar Heels forced their way back into the game. Although UNC drew within seven points of the Hokies, Amoore capped off her double-figure third-quarter performance with a late 3-pointer to extend the lead back out to 10. 

Virginia Tech came out hot in the final quarter, making five of its eight shot attempts in the first five minutes. At the media timeout, the Tar Heels found themselves in a 17-point deficit. With a little under three minutes remaining, Ustby fouled out of the game.

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While the Tar Heels scored 15 points in the fourth, the effort proved to be too late. 

“Our possessions were kind of all over the place,” Kelly said. “But the way they were playing, they were really denying Lexi really hard, they were denying Indya [Nivar] really hard. They were just trying not to let us cash.”

The Tar Heels will face another on-the-road contest on Thursday in Chestnut Hill, Mass., against Boston College. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. 

@_emmahmoon

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com