After the craziness of this afternoon’s UNC-Baylor men’s game, most North Carolina Tar Heels fans would’ve been hoping that the women’s first round game against Stephen F. Austin would be a little less dramatic. However, through three quarters, it did not appear like that was going to be the case.
The WAC champion Ladyjacks are a very good team, who went 28-4 in the regular season and were far from an easy out. They led for much of the first half, leading by as many as 10 at various points. Second Team All-WAC player Zya Nugent was draining threes, SFA kept grabbing offensive rebounds and getting second chance points, and the Tar Heels were in danger of falling victim to the classic 5-12 upset, two of which had already happened in the women’s field. UNC got within two to start the fourth quarter, but it seemed like we were headed for a tough final 10 minutes.
Then the the final quarter started. Over the final 10 minutes, Carolina outscored Stephen F. Austin 25-10. Whereas for much of the first half, SFA were seemingly first to every loose ball and rebound, UNC flipped that script in the fourth. They scored 14 of the fourth quarter’s first 17 points, winning the rebounding battle 6-1 in that five and a half minute stretch. After going into the fourth trailing, they suddenly were up double digits, cruising from there to eventually finish off a 79-66 win.
Deja Kelly led the way for the Tar Heels, scoring a game high 28 points, knocking down four threes. She did most of her damage in the second half, scoring 20 over the final 20 minutes. Nine came in the fourth quarter, but her most crucial stretch arguably came in the third. At one point, she scored 11 of 13 points for Heels during a passage of play where the Ladyjacks threatened to take their lead back out to double digits. That kept UNC within striking distance and well positioned when they eventually took control in the fourth quarter.
It was far from just Kelly though, as Carolina got crucial contributions in the second half from pretty much everyone. Kennedy Todd-Williams, Alyssa Utsby, Carlie Littlefield, and Eva Hodgson all reached double figures in points and all came up with a clutch bucket at some point or another.
For Stephen F. Austin, Nugent led the way, finishing with 26 points after knocking down five threes. However, after committing an offensive foul in the fourth quarter, she slammed the court in frustration, and got T’d him. Those fouls ended up being her fourth and fifth, fouling her out of the game. That ended up being the final nail in the game’s coffin.
UNC will next play on Monday, and will take on the #4 seed and the host of these two rounds: Arizona. The Wildcats similarly needed a fourth quarter rally, winning 72-67 after going into the fourth quarter down five. On paper, it should be a tough task for the Heels, especially playing on Arizona’s home court.