CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The 12th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels gave the seventh-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish all they could dish out, but still suffered an 89-79 loss at Carmichael Arena on Thursday.
After securing career-win 950 on Sunday with a 96-81 win over Georgia Tech, taking on the Fighting Irish just four days later, North Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell wanted to add another notch on the board.
She and her team thought it was a game they could win, and they put themselves in a position to do so throughout.
It was a tenacious and relentless effort that came up short, and one that they won’t forget.
“I thought the effort was good,” Hatchell said.
“We had trouble keeping people out there, but I thought we played hard. We just didn’t get it done enough. We’ll keep working. We’ll get them eventually. Trust me, we’ll get them eventually.”
Led by Allisha Gray’s 20 points and Stephanie Mavunga’s double-double (13 points, 11 rebounds) to go along with Jamie Cherry’s 10 points, the Tar Heels were prepared to match up with the Irish.
Brittany Rountree (8 points, 3 rebounds), Danielle Butts (8 points, 4 rebounds), Jessica Washington (9 points, 2 rebounds), and Latifah Coleman (3 points, 6 assists) all contributed with an all-around effort at both ends of the court.
It was North Carolina’s style of game to play, according to Mavunga.
“I think Notre Dame’s aggressive, but I feel like we’re more aggressive than they are,” the sophomore forward said.
“We’re a great team, and we’re really aggressive. We do a lot of drills in practice when we go against our practice boys, and we really just throw them around. So that’s really how we came out here.”
While the Tar Heels managed to limit Jewell Loyd, the ACC’s and Notre Dame’s top scorer, to eight points, it was freshman forward Brianna Turner (29 points, 18 rebounds) and sophomore guard Lindsay Allen (24 points, 9 assists) who did the majority of the damage offensively against the Tar Heels.
North Carolina (15-3, 2-2) led by as many as 11 points (34-23) with 5:28 to play in the first half, but Notre Dame (16-2, 4-1) slowly chipped away and wiped that deficit away and led 42-39 at halftime.
“I thought this was a phenomenal win for us, over a really good team,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said.
“They are a top ten team. They are so talented. I was just so happy with the way we came back from the ten-point deficit that we got in the first half. We got the lead, they made a run at us. We held our poise. I thought we showed really great poise down the stretch.”
In the end, Notre Dame’s 50-percent shooting to North Carolina’s 37 percent was a factor, particularly late in the game.
While the Tar Heels tied the game up a few times early in the second, Loyd contributed two free throws that put Notre Dame ahead 48-46.
Both teams put together small runs for the rest of the game, but as close as the Tar Heels got, they never regained the lead.
North Carolina pulled to within one, trailing 78-77 with 4:29 to play, but the Fighting Irish put together a 11-2 run that finished the game’s scoring.
North Carolina went scoreless for three of the last four minutes of the game, missing six field goal and two free throw attempts.
“Well, we’re extremely disappointed,” Hatchell said.
“So that’s about all I can say. Turner was tough. I thought we made a good run at them, and got it down to one point, but just didn’t have enough fire power, I guess. I guess that’s why she was the best player coming out last year because she was tough. Allen was really tough up there, too. We’ll just regroup and move on.”
Notes: When not hitting from outside, the Irish outscored the Tar Heels 46-24 in the paint…The Irish also scored 14 points in transition while North Carolina only scored two points on fast breaks…Both teams were even in second chance points (18-18) and the Tar Heels bench showed its true worth in contributing 27 points…As senior guard Brittany Rountree fouled out in the second half, Hatchell reacted by shedding her Carolina Blue-colored blazer. She forcefully whipped it behind the Tar Heels bench and narrowly missed covering injured junior forward Xylina McDaniel with it in the process.