CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – It was another long day for the North Carolina Tar Heels that culminated in another loss.
The Tar Heels fell to the 13th-ranked Louisville Cardinals 78-60 at Carmichael Arena on Thursday despite a 42-percent shooting performance from the field.
Stephanie Watts (16 points, 7 rebounds), Hillary Summers (14 points, 10 point), and Destinee Walker (12 points, 3 rebounds) led the Tar Heels (12-12, 2-7) while N’Dea Bryant’s work on the boards (6 points, 6 rebounds) supported Summers’ effort in that area to keep pace with Louisville (18-5, 10-0) early on.
Guard Jamie Cherry was held to only five points, and finished 1-of-7 from the field, including an 0-for-5 performance beyond the arc.
Even with head coach Sylvia Hatchell back on the bench after serving the first of two separate game suspensions, it was the little things that eventually added up against North Carolina.
“It’s a whole different atmosphere when Coach Hatchell is there,” Watts said.
“She just brings such a passion and love for the game that just rubs off onto to us. We elevate to her level of intensity.”
Louisville eventually outrebound North Carolina 44-36 and kept the Tar Heels to a 19-percent shooting rate beyond the arc, finishing 4-of-21 from that distance.
Committing 19 turnovers also played to the Cardinals’ favor.
Mariya Moore’s game-high 22 points led the Cardinals with Asia Durr and Myisha Hines-Allen contributing 21 and 19 points respectively to eventually overpower the Tar Heels during the final two quarters.
In suffering their seventh straight Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) loss, the Tar Heels fell further into an abyss that continued to appear to have no bottom.
There was a glimmer of hope early on though.
UNC took its first lead, 10-9, with 4:32 to play in the opening quarter as Watts finished a strong drive to the basket.
While the Cardinals went 0-for-5 and turned the ball over three times, the Tar Heels put together a 6-0 run.
Watts, along with Walker, continued to fuel the Tar Heels offense.
UNC led 14-11 with 1:43 to play in the period.
The Tar Heels took advantage of loosely guarded post positions to penetrate to the hoop as Summers posted eight points in the first 10 minutes of play.
Walker quickly dropped a three and extended the advantage to five points.
While Louisville started to make shots, the Tar Heels’ hands got hotter as another three from Walker put UNC ahead 24-18.
The Cardinals hit only 1-of-7 while trailing by five.
A three from Sam Fuehring, her only points in the game, cut North Carolina’s lead down to two with 4:44 to play in the half.
While both teams traded misses, rebounds, and turnovers, Louisville eventually tied it at 28 apiece.
Summers and Watts then combined to give North Carolina a 32-28 halftime lead.
“If we could play halves, we’d be in good shape,” Hatchell said.
“I thought we played a really good first half, but I thought we got fatigued and tired. I thought we did a lot of good things. The first two-and-a-half quarters we played really well and then we just got worn out.”
North Carolina didn’t let up to start the third period while the Cardinals continued to play frustrated.
A running jumper from Walker gave the Tar Heels nine-point lead, up 37-28 during the first minute of play.
Louisville slowly chipped away at its deficit and pulled to within three points just three minutes later.
Moore’s three put the Cardinals up 48-46 and they built on their lead from there.
“Having the lead in the first half, we were really pumped up and ready to,” Watts said.
“Once they took the lead, they had a little bit of a momentum shift and that got us down a little bit.”
A stronger effort off the offensive glass helped power Louisville’s run and extend its lead to five.
North Carolina’s inability to convert from the field and repeatedly turning the ball over allowed the Cardinals to put together an 18-6 run to assume full control of the game.
Louisville led 63-52 heading into the final quarter.
“The third quarter has been our Achilles heel probably in our last six games,” Hatchell said.
Unable to penetrate into the paint, North Carolina’s offensive sequences focused on perimeter shot attempts.
They didn’t go in – none of them.
The Tar Heels couldn’t score and didn’t do so for nearly seven minutes and allowed the Cardinals to build up their lead to 73-54 with five minutes to play.
Erika Johnson (7 points, 4 rebounds) hit the Tar Heels’ first points of the quarter from the free throw line with 2:57 to play.
They only scored eight for the entire final 10 minutes.
By the final buzzer, the Cardinals had extended their win streak to 15 games and remained undefeated in the ACC to sit atop the league standings along with Notre Dame.
The Tar Heels went the other way and fell further down to join Virginia Tech in a tie for 12th.
“Carolina’s playing for a reason,” Louisville head coach Jeff Walz said.
“There is a purpose right now. They’re trying to get back on their winning ways. It’s a club that’s got rich tradition of winning and they’re real close.”
“We’re working hard and gettin’ better,” Hatchell said.
“We’ll continue to do that.”