Raleigh, N.C. – For the second week in a row on Sunday, North Carolina toppled a top 10 team.
This time it was previously-unbeaten No. 7 NC State, which saw its program-best 21-win start snapped by a gritty Tar Heel performance. Stephanie Watts led the way with 20 points, which included a buzzer-beater three-point shot with 1:49 to go that gave her team energy down the stretch.
Last weekend North Carolina upended No. 1 Notre Dame. Tar Heel coach Sylvia Hatchell said players were able to carry that momentum into their next two match ups.
“It’s been a great week for us,’ Hatchell said. “I’m just so proud of these kids. I just love them to death…..they’re just playing some really good team basketball, and they’re all contributing. It’s fun to coach them.”
There were eight ties and 12 lead changes in the third quarter. During the game’s key stretch, the visitors kept the Wolfpack from scoring a field goal from 6:52 in the third quarter until 6:48 in the fourth. By that point, North Carolina had mounted a 54-45 lead, which they never relinquished. Janelle Bailey, who scored 16 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, said clamping down on defense made the difference.
“Just picking it up … that goes down to every half, every quarter, every second,” she said. “We picked up our intensity, definitely, in the second half, and communication just on the little things.”
Paris Kea, who finished with 17 points, scored mostly in the second half. She said she found other ways to contribute during the dry spell.
“I had to just tough it out,” she said. “I found my teammates [passing]. When I drove, I’d draw two [defenders], and they’d knock it down.”
The team appears to be coming together at precisely the right time to mount a stretch run moving towards the ACC Tournament, both in terms of chemistry and level of play.
“I wouldn’t want to be out here with any other group,” Watts said. “We’ve just been really excited, but we’re never satisfied. We want more, [we] want to keep it rolling.”
Kiara Leslie had 17 points and 12 rebounds for NC State, while Aislinn Konig had 13 points and Erika Cassell, eight. No one else got close to double digits. Coach Wes Moore cited a lack of offensive aggression for the team’s struggles.
“We’ve got to do a better job of that,” he said. “I’ve got to do a better job of trying to help us be a little more aggressive offensively, in ‘attacking mode’. The last few games, we really haven’t been quite as efficient offensively, so that’s something we’ve got to look at.”
Leslie said their slow start affected their shooting.
“We weren’t moving around the perimeter [and] working our inside-out game,” she said. “I think that played a little bit into us shooting [like that.]”
Cassell said the team is ready to move on in having their winning streak snapped.
“I don’t feel like there was pressure (to keep it going),” she said. “Of course, everyone was wondering how long the streak was going to go on, but it’s just something for us to bounce back from. It’s a learning experience, and we’re going to take it and apply it to the next game going forward.”
Moore said his team will learn from the loss.
“I hope it will give them some confidence,” he said. “(We) can compete with anybody if we’re playing our A game.”
The Wolfpack now enters a tough stretch against three ranked opponents, with their next game at No. 24 Florida State on Thursday. North Carolina will host archrival Duke in their first match up of the week.