Last game, it was the much-heralded “Big Three,” the junior class of Deja Kelly, Alyssa Ustby, and Kennedy Todd-Williams who carried the UNC Tar Heels to a win, scoring 61 of the team’s 72 points in their win against Pittsburgh. This time, when things weren’t falling for them, the Heels were going to need some new blood to step up in the scoring column. Fortunately for them, that’s exactly what Paulina Paris did. The first-year point guard who’s been impressive all season off the bench caught fire from deep, hitting 6/12 from three-point range en route to a career-high 22 points, pacing her team on its way to a 69-58 win over the Clemson Tigers in Littlejohn Coliseum. The Heels opened the game with a 14-4 run and led from wire to wire, though they were threatened a couple of times before coming away with their seventh straight win in conference play.
The Heels dominated Clemson with their defense early, holding them to single-digit point totals in each of the first two quarters while building a 36-17 lead. Todd-Williams did most of her damage early, scoring 10 points of that opening run on her own, and from there, the scoring was fairly by committee. A highlight of the game for North Carolina was redshirt first-year Kayla McPherson making her debut appearance for UNC after spending nearly a year and a half rehabbing a first knee injury from high school, then an unrelated leg injury suffered in practice. She was electric, with 8 points, all in the first half, along with some suffocating defense, leading her to two of the Heels’ season-high-tying 16 steals. Also coming off the bench, Paris added five steals and knocked down a trio of triples as well, and all that scoring helped balance out quiet halves from Kelly and Ustby, who made their impacts felt nevertheless with four assists and eight rebounds in the half respectively.
After Paris opened the second half with a three-pointer to give UNC a 21-point lead, though, things fell apart a little bit, as Clemson increased their intensity on the defensive end and started hitting shots on the other. The Heels hit just two of their last eleven field goal attempts in the third quarter as the Tigers cut the lead down to just four entering the final period. But, as they have all season long, Courtney Banghart’s team stepped up another level in the fourth quarter. The Heels entered the game outscoring road opponents 125-85 in winning time, and while Clemson was able to stay within striking distance thanks to some timely shots and UNC’s occasional inability to break their press, North Carolina slowly wore them down with their shotmaking and stamina, eventually coming away with a comfortable double-digit win.
Paris’ 22 led the Heels, and behind her, it was a balanced scoring effort, with just Todd-Williams joining her in double figures with 15. Kelly and Ustby each ended up with 9, with Kelly adding 6 assists and 6 boards and Ustby leading all players with 11 rebounds to go with 3 steals.
Up next for the fifteenth-ranked Tar Heels is a home date with Virginia, their one moment in Chapel Hill sandwiched by two road games on either side. With Notre Dame’s loss to N.C. State earlier today, UNC is just a game out of first place in the ACC, and with a few games against teams lower in the conference standings coming up, they’ve got a solid shot at taking the top spot.