Kennedy Todd-Williams’ career high couldn’t have come on a better night.
While the men’s program’s had a seesaw of a year, Carolina basketball on the women’s side has been having a really impressive season. They’ve maintained position in the back half of the Top 25, their only losses have been to ranked teams (and only top-5 N.C. State has beaten them convincingly), and all in all, they’ve been a top-5 NET team basically since the metric gained enough data to be used this season. If their resume was missing anything, it was a marquee win — they’ve got some impressive ones, including a home win against Virginia Tech, but none that really put them on the national stage in a big way.
Well, until last night. Third-ranked Louisville came to town for a top-25 matchup, and the game absolutely delivered, staying close throughout and coming down to Todd-Williams’ go-ahead free throws with 16 seconds left. The Heels’ ACC-best defense clamped down for just one more stop (and then a scary putback opportunity) and they’d done it: taken down a top-5 team for a marquee win this season, turning the tenor of this year from “pretty good” to “pretty great.”
The teams traded baskets for most of the first quarter, highlighted on the UNC side by two Deja Kelly three-pointers, before Louisville went on a mini-run towards the end of the quarter and led after the first 10 minutes, 20-16. From there, UNC went a little cold, allowing the deficit to stretch to as much as 10 before jumpers from Kelly and Todd-Williams sparked a UNC offensive spurt, taking the teams to a halftime score of 37-32 in favor of the Cardinals. Todd-Williams was really the only Heel who could score in the second quarter, hitting a pair of short jumpers on her way to 6 points in the quarter. Kelly led all scorers with 12 and was the only Heel to have hit from outside, which was a rarity for a normally hot-shooting team — they were shooting 2/8 from distance, with Kelly’s two early treys the only successes.
The Heels spent most of the third quarter clawing back, doing so with the help of 6 offensive rebounds — for comparisons, the Cardinals had just 6 defensive rebounds in the 3rd period. UNC manufactured a bunch of second chances and made just enough out of them, scoring 5 second-chance points including a Todd-Williams offensive board, missed putback, second offensive board, and then a two-woman game with Kelly leading to a KTW corner three. Eva Hodgson also gave the Heels a spark with an and-1 drive near the end of the half that put the Heels up one, before Hailey van Lith hit an absurd buzzer-beating three-pointer for Louisville to put her team up two entering the final period.
The Cardinals created a bit of space to start the fourth, pushing the lead back up to as much as 6 at times. The Heels always had an answer, though, whether it be Carlie Littlefield with 4 points early in the half or Hodgson making a timely cut for a layup. Then with the Heels down 4 with 6 minutes to go, it was Kennedy Todd-Williams time. She hit a three-pointer to bring the deficit to 1, then a midrange jumper to give her team the lead with just over 4 minutes to go. Louisville wouldn’t go away, however, and after some trading points, Olivia Cochran was fouled with 45 seconds to go and sunk both free throws to give her team a one-point lead. UNC went the other way and Kelly pulled up from the free-throw line and softly rolled in a jumper to get the lead back, but the Cardinals found an open layup from the ensuing inbounds and had a one-point lead again with 21 seconds to go. Todd-Williams was fouled five seconds after the Heels had inbounded, and the sophomore, who’d been having the game of her life and is shooting 81% from the line this year, calmly knocked down both freebies for a 66-65 lead. From there, well, you just have to see it:
This was the first win for the UNC women’s program against Louisville since the latter team joined the conference. Todd-Williams led all scorers with a career-high 19 points on 6/16 shooting, and Kelly was right behind her with 18 points on 6/12, including 2/5 from three. UNC as a team shot pretty poorly, just 38% overall and 26% from long distance, and while Louisville as a team shot better, 44% from the field and 33% from three, UNC got to the line a lot more often, making 15 of their 20 free throw attempts to Louisville’s 7/11. Dominating the boards helped as well, as UNC held a 42-32 advantage spearheaded by Alyssa Ustby, who pulled down 9 boards to go with her 9 points. Anya Poole was a menace on the defensive interior, coming away with 4 steals to go with her 5 points and 6 rebounds. And Hodgson continued her strong comeback from injury, scoring 7 crucial points, leading the team in assists with 4, and posting a game-high +/- of 8 in just 22 minutes.
It goes without saying that this is a massive win for the Heels, over a national championship-caliber team. It’s even better that it comes off the heels of a tough loss at Virginia Tech. This team’s got its sights set higher than big regular-season wins, though. The postseason is just around the corner, and this win announces that the Heels intend on being a big part of it. They’ll make stops in Tallahassee and Charlottesville over the next week before closing the season at home for a Senior Night against Duke on February 27th. And from there, the fun will hopefully just be beginning.