CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The North Carolina Tar Heels tried to keep pace with the sixth-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Carmichael Arena on Sunday, but couldn’t.
As a result, they suffered a 77-55 loss and dropped their record to 12-8 overall and 1-6 in Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) play.
The Tar Heels relied on redshirt sophomore guard Paris Kea’s 21 points and nine rebounds, along with 14 points from sophomore guard Stephanie Watts to carry the load, but it just wasn’t enough.
UNC’s other notable backcourt scorers, junior Jamie Cherry and sophomore Destinee Walker, were held to single digits – eight and six points apiece – while shooting a combined 5-of-18 from the field.
A double-double finish from Notre Dame’s Brianna Turner (24 points, 12 rebounds) led four players who put up double-digit scoring totals – a group that included Marina Mabry (13 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists), Arike Ogunbowale (11 points, 3 rebounds), and Jackie Young (10 points, 8 rebounds).
The three-time defending ACC-champion Irish (18-3, 6-1) dominated in the paint, outscoring North Carolina by a 46-20 margin, while outrebounding the Tar Heels 43-32.
“Inside, Bri was able to get loose for a lot of offensive rebounds and mismatches,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said.
“We did a good job of getting her the ball. Really pleased with how we executed.”
Defensively, Notre Dame forced North Carolina to go scoreless for most of the second quarter.
It was a similar scenario that the Tar Heels played out when they lost to cross-Triangle rival Duke on Jan. 12.
“I think it’s a mindset,” Watts said.
“We have to buckle down and play that second quarter. Now we know that’s kind of our Achilles heel; we just have to put our mind to it and buckle down and get it done. If we’re not gonna score, then we’ve got to get stops, so we just have to make a point to do it.”
“We just have to work on being consistent – we’re young,” Kea added.
Without their most experienced defender, redshirt senior Hillary Fuller, out for the season with a knee injury, the Tar Heels relied on freshmen Taylor Koenen, Alysaa Okoene, and Naomi Van Nes to rotate into the high and low posts.
Their relative inexperience in the position was evident.
”Today, they (Notre Dame) were hedging our screens all the time,” North Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell said.
“When we did get a couple of them, they rotated their weak-side and we either traveled or fumbled the ball around. They just gotta learn that. A lot of it is the timing. We put all three of them in there and just let ‘em play.”
Without the ball, the play of Turner, who finished with six blocks for the Irish, and guard Lindsay Allen’s four steals made it difficult for the Tar Heels to establish any inside presence and ability to threaten to score.
Going forward, Hatchell indicated that she and her staff would use a more simplified approach to continue to develop a young team that is still learning how to work through the adversity they are currently experiencing.
“Maybe we just need to simplify,” Hatchell said.
“We’ve got an entourage of things and we try to call things out; maybe for these freshmen we need to simplify a little bit and try to perfect just a few things. We’re doin’ a lot of good things. We’re close; the (lack of) experience, size is hurtin’ us right now.”
Watts, the ACC’s current second-leading scorer and top 3-point shooter, believes the Tar Heels have what it takes to win more league games this season.
“Of course we want to win,” she said.
“I think we’re on the borderline. Like Coach Hatchell said, we played them even three out of four quarters. There’s just that second quarter that gets us down a lot. Overall, I think we’re pretty hopeful from what we see from the team, knowing that we do have eight freshman and how much they’re gonna progress as the season goes on. I think we’re in a pretty good state.”
Notes: Watts injured her knee and missed the final quarter. Hatchell stated that the team doctor indicated she bruised it. Watts said she hyperextended it on a play, but that “it’s gonna be alright,”…The win was McGraw’s 750th of her career in leading the Irish program, as she became the seventh women’s coach, and fourth woman, to reach that milestone at the same school. As a fellow Women’s and Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer like Hatchell who holds 987 career wins, third all-time among female coaches, McGraw’s 838th overall win rests her in sixth spot on that list.
UNC: Paris Kea – 21 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals; Stephanie Watts – 14 points, 3 rebounds
Notre Dame: Brianna Turner – 24 points, 12 rebounds, 6 blocks; Marina Mabrey – 13 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists; Arike Ogunbowale – 11 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists; Jackie Young – 10 points, 8 rebounds;
Notre Dame 47, North Carolina 27
The Irish converted at a 57-percent clip from the field led by Turner’s 13 points and Mabrey’s 11.
From long range, Mabrey and Ogunbowale each dropped two 3-pointers as Notre Dame’s 5-of-9 effort out-produced the Tar Heels’ 2-of-13 finiah.
Kea’s 17 points was the only productive result of a 35-percent shooting performance.
Two separate four-minute shooting droughts put the Tar Heels behind as Notre Dame won the second quarter 23-6.
The Irish dominated in the paint, establishing a 28-14 difference over UNC which couldn’t establish any low-post production when facing Turner who claimed four of six blocked shots in the first half.
Allen got the Irish on the board first with a layup as both teams got their feet under them.
Kea reciprocated for the Tar Heels with consecutive baskets.
A 7-0 run put Notre Dame up 9-4 at the 7:24 mark.
Coming out of the media timeout, the Tar Heels worked to cut their deficit.
UNC pulled to within one two minutes later as Kea’s layup made it 11-10.
A steal by Kea, the Irish’s third straight turnover, turned into a breakaway layup that gave North Carolina a one-point lead with 4:25 remaining.
The Irish quickly recovered with a quick basket from Turner following a timeout that McGraw called.
Notre Dame led 16-13 until Kea’s 3-pointer tied the game once more.
Both teams continued to trade long-range baskets.
Kea was the only offensive weapon for the Tar Heels in the paint, slashing to the basket.
With a raw and smaller low-post rotation cadre of Koenen, Okoene, and Van Nes, UNC struggled offensively as Notre Dame’s Turner tallied three blocks during the period.
Ogunbawale’s five points gave Notre Dame a 24-21 lead at the end of the period.
Turnovers and missed shots highlighted the first few minutes of play as each side tightened up defensively.
Notre Dame missed four shots until Ogunbowale extended the lead to 28-23 while the Tar Heels were scoreless for three minutes.
While the Irish put together a 10-0 run led with big contributions from Mabrey, UNC’s shooting woes continued, going upwards of four minutes, the result of two turnovers and 0-for-4 shooting, until Kea’s jumper ended it.
Notre Dame held its largest advantage up to that point, leading 36-25 with 4:41 remaining in the half.
Another long stretch of scoreless play by the Tar Heels enabled the Irish to continue building its lead as Ogunbowale and Ali Patberg scored a three and jumper.
Even with a few misses, the Irish run extended to nine unmatched points, and compiled a 47-27 margin over UNC by halftime.
A 3-pointer from Watts excited the crowd of 3,159 on hand, but Mabrey quickly matched it.
The Tar Heels ran pace-for-pace with the Irish, and their scoring production worked to keep pace, scoring six points to Notre Dame’s eight during the first three minutes.
McGraw called a timeout to reset the Irish’s focus.
Allen and Turner posted points that surged Notre Dame ahead 59-35 at the midpoint of the period.
UNC continued to scrap for ball possession and points and were successful for a time as Notre Dame went 0-for-6 for two minutes while Kea and Watts put up a jumper and a 3, respectively.
The Irish led 59-40 with 3:10 remaining, and continued to rack up points down low.
A few more baskets from the field and free throw line by UNC didn’t make much impact as the Irish maintained a double-digit lead at 63-45 heading into the final period.
Notre Dame reestablished a 20-point lead on two free throws from Young during the first minute.
After Erin Boley drove the baseline to add to the Irish 6-0 run, Hatchell called a timeout.
With Watts out with an apparent leg injury, UNC added Olivia Smith onto the floor.
Walker’s 3-pointer with five minutes to go had the Tar Heels trailing 69-50.
Okoene made a gutsy offensive rebound and putback over Turner that energized the crowd.
However, even with the positives drawn from UNC holding the Irish scoreless for two minutes, Notre Dame cruised to the overpowering, winning result.
A jumper from Patberg and two free throws from Allen outdistanced a layup from Kea and free throw from Walker to end the scoring output from both sides.