CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The 12th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels women’s basketball team suffered their first loss of the season, 81-65, at the hands of the 4th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers in front of a crowd of 4,923 at Carmichael Arena on Monday.
Meeting for the second time in two years, just under a year apart, it was the Volunteers who added to their overall win total over the Tar Heels.
Even double-double performances from Allisha Gray (15 points, 10 rebounds), Xylina McDanel (12 points, 10 rebounds), Stephanie Mavunga (11 points, 12 rebounds) were not enough to overcome the double-digit lead that Tennessee established early on and maintained throughout the game.
It only took Tennessee six seconds to score the first points of the game, but it was a hard fought first half that saw the score for both teams stay in single digits for the first eight minutes of the game.
Even while North Carolina put together a 12-2 run together during the latter part of the opening half, their shooting struggles began to surface soon afterwards while the Volunteers picked up their offensive pace and put together a number of scoring runs.
Tennessee eventually carried a 40-28 into halftime based on a 47 percent (7-15) shooting performance beyond the arc, of which guard Ariel Massengale (20 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds) contributed four three-pointers on seven attempts and became the difference maker early on.
“There were some possessions where they were leavin’ me open, and coach Lock said, ‘if they’re gonna’ leave you open, make ‘em pay for it’,” Massengale said.
As both teams generated their offense in spurts, it was Tennessee that was able to develop more of a rhythm to its scoring that it maintained throughout the game.
“I think you saw two athletic basketball teams that played hard,” Volunteers head coach Holly Warlick said.
“It was sloppy at times. There was some good basketball at times.”
Even though they caused turnovers and stole the ball numerous times, particularly during the second half, the Tar Heels were unable to convert on those opportunities due to their poor shooting performance from the field.
They put a number of shots up towards the basket, but the ball would simply not drop through it.
The Tar Heels shot a mediocre 30 percent from the field, while the Volunteers put in a better shooting effort (40%) to earn the win.
With 10 minutes remaining the Tar Heels made one final offensive push as they went on a run to bring the score with 14 points, 58-44.
Minutes later, with 5:42 remaining in the game, Mavunga hit a three and came up with a block at the other end and the Tar Heels trimmed the Vols lead to 11 points, 68-57 – the closest they would get before the final horn sounded.
“It’s a challenge for us,” Tar Heels associate head coach Andrew Calder said of the matchup against Tennessee this early in the season.
“It showed us what we need to work on and we’ll learn from it and move on.”
When asked what her thoughts were of the young Tar Heels squad that her more experienced team just beat, Warlick said assuredly, “they’re gonna’ be fine.”
“They’re a great basketball team – very talented, very athletic – and they’ll figure it out. We’ve been there…They’re a very good basketball team and they’ll be fine.”