By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — Paulina Paris’ silky-smooth jumper and driving ability were just what Carolina needed to break out of a four-game losing streak marked by shooting struggles.
The 5–9 freshman guard scored 11 of her season-high 16 points in the fourth quarter as the No. 22 Tar Heels earned a season-changing 60–50 victory over No. 4 Notre Dame on Sunday before a packed Carmichael Arena for their third consecutive home win over the Irish.
“Just really happy for them,” UNC coach Courtney Banghart said. “They’ve leaned in to losing some close games late, but not losing faith. It’s made us vulnerable in a way with each other. I think it’s a good thing. Obviously P has been a real difference-maker. They earned that after really not shooting very well.”
It’s huge for Carolina (10–5, 1–3 ACC) to beat a second top-five team after knocking off Iowa State on Nov. 27 when it was No. 4. But avoiding a fifth consecutive loss and the ramifications that might have had for the rest of the season was probably more important.
“We weren’t going to let that happen,” said Deja Kelly, who scored 14 points and helped put the game away with five free throws in the last 1:38. “We knew that, and that has been the talk for the past few days after the Miami loss — that four was already enough.”
Carolina could have easily won three of the four games during the losing streak, and Banghart declared the 76–68 loss to Michigan in Charlotte on Dec. 20 an anomaly and unacceptable.
“The last three, we’ve been getting better and they’re taking strides to get better,” Banghart said of the 78–71 home loss Dec. 29 to Florida State, the 68–65 New Year’s Day defeat at Virginia Tech and Thursday’s 62–58 loss at Miami.
Notre Dame (12–2, 3–1) had never scored fewer than 63 points this season and was ninth in the country in scoring at 84.1 per game and fifth in shooting percentage (49.8%). But Carolina mixed up a matchup zone, varying from a 2–3 to a 3–2, with an active man-to-man to hold down the high-powered Irish offense.
“We do the best job we can showing them how they want to attack us and then our guys just really locked in,” said Banghart, whose team held the Irish to 28.1% shooting. “We made our zone an amoeba, which made them more connected on ball with our better hand engagement.”
UNC held the nation’s 27th-best 3-point shooting team in the country to 2 of 22 shooting (9.1%) from outside the arc after it came into the game shooting 36.6%.
Carolina won despite only its second game this season scoring 60 or fewer points and season-lows for field goals (21) and field goal attempts (59). The Tar Heels blocked seven shots, with Alyssa Ustby swatting three of them to go with her 12 points and three steals.
Notre Dame star Olivia Miles scored 11 points in the first half but battled foul trouble and only finished with 15. Just when she began to struggle to score (she was 1 of 4 in the second half after making 4 of 5 before halftime), Paris started surging.
“We lost her, especially in transition,” Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey said of Paris. “I thought she came out with a ton of confidence. Just didn’t do a good job of containing her. She got whatever she wanted. She got to the rim, made wide open looks, but she was a really big momentum-booster for them.”
That might not have been the case a few games ago, but Paris’ confidence keeps reaching new levels since she scored 15 points and two 3-pointers in the loss at Virginia Tech.
“I came in and I was just trying to do what I could to help the team win. So when I was open, I drove, I shot and I tried to find my teammates,” Paris said. “And I guess once the first shot went in, it was huge from then on.”
Paris scored Carolina’s first 11 fourth-quarter points, including a pair of 3-pointers.
“I think the biggest thing with P is that we trust her,” Banghart said. “She doesn’t go out there and just do her own thing. She goes out there and there’s a high level of communication with me and throughout the game. She has a high understanding of what we’re trying to do.”
After Kelly made a jumper and a 3-point attempt bounced on the rim and trickled in with 3:59 left in the third quarter, UNC kept shooting better the rest of the game.
“I think that definitely was a momentum-changer,” Kelly said of that 3-pointer. “I think it was Toddy [Kennedy Todd-Williams] that found me in transition for the three, and it bounced the way it did. We were like, finally; the whole bench was like, we’ll take it!”
Anya Poole and Destiny Adams, who was a game-high +19, did impressive jobs most of the game matching up inside with wide-bodied 6–4 Notre Dame center Lauren Ebo, who had seven points and a career-high 19 rebounds.
“Destiny’s activity and physicality and willingness to not back down, and Anya willing to start the game and basically say no, you’re not getting easy stuff down here,” Banghart said. “That’s not easy. Anya is about 6-2 and she took that on and was huge.”
Carolina made its first four shots, including a Todd-Williams 3-pointer in the first nine seconds, and scored the game’s first seven points. An Ustby layup with 12 seconds left ended a nearly five-minute UNC scoring drought to give the Tar Heels a 13–7 lead after one quarter.
Dara Mabrey’s 3-pointer with 4:56 left in the first half ended a 13–2 run to give Notre Dame its first lead at 20–17. Carolina only scored four field goals in the second quarter, the last a Paris 3-pointer with 1:13 left, before the Irish took a 25–22 halftime edge.
“It starts with the defense and ends with the offense and defensively, I thought we gave ourselves a chance,” said Banghart, who told her team at halftime that she liked the shots, that the defense was keeping them in the game and they needed to make more. “Finally, the shots fell.”
By the time Ustby scored UNC’s initial points of the second half on a layup with 5:47 left in the third quarter, the Irish’s lead was six. However, UNC charged back into the lead with a 14–3 run to go up 36–33 on a Destiny Adams 3-pointer with 1:55 left in the third quarter.
An Ustby 3-pointer with 20 seconds left gave Carolina a 39–34 edge after three quarters after going 3 of 4 from 3-point range in the period. Miles was scoreless in the third as the Irish went the last 6:28 without a field goal.
Miles picked up her third foul in the first 12 seconds of the final quarter. While she was sitting, Paris was dealing and her layup with 5:43 left pushed UNC’s lead to 50–43. Two Todd-Williams free throws with 2:01 left pushed the lead back to seven.
UNC put the game away with six free throws in the last 1:38, five from Kelly.
NOTES — Carolina goes on the road for the third time in four games at 7 p.m. Thursday, playing at Virginia (ESPN3) before playing three consecutive home games. The Cavaliers (13–3, 2–3) lost 87–62 Sunday at No. 10 N.C. State and 74–66 Thursday at No. 9 Virginia Tech. … UNC honored Kelly before the game for becoming the 39th player in program history to score 1,000 points. … Carolina redshirt senior Ariel Young, who made her season debut Dec. 7 against UNCW after recovering from ACL surgery, wasn’t in uniform for the fourth consecutive game. … Carolina’s previous low point total came in Thursday’s 62–58 loss at Miami. … Carolina last beat two top five teams during the 2008–09 season. … UNC is 2–1 against teams that were top 5 at the time of the meeting and 2–2 against top-10 teams. … Notre Dame still owns a 10–4 lead in the all-time series, including 8–3 since the Irish joined the ACC.
No. 22 UNC 60,
No. 4 Notre Dame 50
UNC lineup combinations
|9||Wednesday||W, 91–59||Jackson State||Home||1–0|
|16||Wednesday||W, 93–25||South Carolina State||Home||3–0|
|20||Sunday||W, 76–65||James Madison||Harrisonburg, Va.||4–0|
|Phil Knight Invitational|
|27||Sunday||W, 73–64||No. 21 Iowa State||Portland||6–0|
|December||ACC/Big Ten Challenge|
|1||Thursday||L, 87–63||No. 2Indiana||Bloomington, Ind.||6–1|
|16||Friday||W, 89–47||USC Upstate||Home||9–1|
|20||Tuesday||L, 76–68||No. 12 Michigan||Charlotte||9–2|
|ACC season begins|
|29||Thursday||L, 78–71||No. 19 |
|Home||9–3, 0–1 ACC|
|1||Sunday||L, 68–65||No. 11 |
|Blacksburg, Va.||9–4, 0–2 ACC|
|5||Thursday||L, 62–58||Miami||Coral Gables, Fla.||9–5, 0–3 ACC|
|8||Sunday||W, 60–50||No. 10 |
|12||Thursday||W, 70–59||Virginia||Charlottesville, Va.||11–5, |
|15||Sunday||W, 56–47||No. 22 N.C. State||Home||12–5, |
|19||Thursday||W, 61–56||No. 9 Duke||Home||13–5, |
|22||Sunday||W, 70–57||Georgia Tech||Home||14–5, |
|26||Thursday||W, 72–57||Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh||15–5, |
|29||Sunday||W, 69–58||Clemson||Clemson||16–5, |
|2||Thursday||W, 73–62||Virginia||Home||17–5, |
|5||Sunday||L, 62–55||Louisville||Louisville||17–6, |
|9||Thursday||7 p.m.||Syracuse||Syracuse||ACCNX (ESPN3)|
|12||Sunday||Noon||Boston College||Home||ACCNX (ESPN3)|
|16||Thursday||8 p.m.||No. 22 N.C. State||Raleigh||ACCN|
|19||Sunday||4 p.m.||Wake Forest||Home||ACCN|
|23||Thursday||8 p.m.||No. 11 |
|26||Sunday||Noon||No. 9 Duke||Durham||RSNs|
|1–5||Wednesday–Sunday||TBA||TBA||Greensboro||ACCN Wed.-Sat.; final on ESPN or ESPN2|
Photos courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications