By R.L. Bynum
A hungry and determined Pittsburgh team put up an unexpected fight against No. 15 North Carolina but became the latest team to learn how hard it is to beat the Tar Heels.
A tie game entering the final quarter turned into a blowout in a flash.
The Panthers led for more than 17 minutes before Carolina took control with a 17–1 run to start the fourth quarter as the Tar Heels won 72–57 Thursday at Pittsburgh for their sixth consecutive victory. After scoring 29 points in the first half, Carolina poured it on with 28 fourth-quarter points.
In the final quarter, Deja Kelly scored seven of her 23 points, Kennedy Todd-Williams 10 of her career-high 22 and Alyssa Ustby nine of her 16. Kelly and Ustby, who collected 11 rebounds, two assists and five steals, both played all 40 minutes.
Kelly said it was all about energy and their mentality toward the game against an opponent that is still inless in the ACC.
“It took us way too long to kind of get into that,” said Kelly, who dished out three assists and got two steals. “Our mentality, we were like, ‘all right, we’re on the road. We know we only got each other; we’ve got each other’s energy to pull out this one on the road.’ And that’s kind of what we did in the fourth quarter.”
Pittsburgh (7–13, 0–9 ACC), which has lost eight consecutive games, hasn’t won since Dec. 7 and hasn’t beaten a Power 5 team in a year. But they used hot shooting and a vexing 2–3 zone defense to give the Tar Heels (15–5, 6–3) fits for three quarters and led for more than 21 minutes of the game.
Coach Courtney Banghart’s forceful message to her Tar Heels at halftime was about the vibe she got from them with Pittsburgh leading 33–29.
“It was a business-like approach to our guys and I really implored that they had a little bit more emotion,” Banghart said, admitting that she is a lot more passionate talking to her team in the dressing room than on the sidelines. “And I do think that contributes to activity. And we started to show a little more emotion when we went to the man-to-man, so we were able to get out and get some more steals and be more active.”
Four of Carolina’s 10 steals came in the final quarter. That helped the Heels go from 30.8% shooting in the third quarter to 75% (9 of 12) in the fourth quarter, when they made 8 of 9 free-throw attempts to finish 18 of 19 for the game for a season-high 94.7%.
“It started with our energy on defense, getting stops and pushing it on the transition with easy looks,” Todd-Williams said. “We were making it hard for ourselves a little bit. But when we started to see the ball go in, I think that started to give us a little bit of momentum.”
The 2–3 Pitt zone that slowed UNC’s offense for three quarters suddenly wasn’t as tough as the Tar Heels scored 14 of their 26 inside points in the final period.
“I think in the second quarter, we got a little stagnant within the zone and we weren’t moving as much; we weren’t moving the ball as much,” Kelly said. “In the second half, we were finding different openings, setting screens within the zone and we were hitting shots as well and we were attacking the gaps more. I think we were more just playing around the perimeter in the first half.”
Kelly scored 10 points as UNC shot 46.7% in the first quarter but Pitt shot 57.1%.
It was a bit of fool’s gold for UNC in the first quarter when they made three 3-point attempts and scored 19 points, mostly with jump shots. Banghart said all of those jumpers in the first quarter set up a “perfect storm” for what followed.
“That kind of can set you up for what happened, which was we started to settle and the ball started to move along the perimeter,” Banghart said. “We didn’t make them defend us. So, at halftime, we really talked about making them defend us. How you do that, is you get into certain gaps on the floor, and that’s either a low post, the short corner or the high post. And so we were able to show them that that’s a necessary part of our attack. And we were able to regroup on that at that halftime.”
Although N.C. State is a much more talented team, the game was reminiscent of UNC’s home win over the Wolfpack on Jan. 15. The Tar Heels trailed 32–31 after three quarters but won 56–47 by scoring 25 fourth-quarter points.
Guard Eva Hodgson was ill with a non-COVID-19 illness and didn’t make the trip. Destiny Adams made her second career start as Banghart went to a taller lineup. Adams went scoreless with six rebounds and three assists before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
“The rhythm of offense is a little bit different when you take out at 26-, 28-minute-a-game player,” Banghart said. “Also the best 3-point shooter on our team against zone. It was kind of the perfect storm, so really happy for our guys to have found a way.”
A 10–2 Panthers run gave them a 25–19 lead on a Dayshanette Harris layup with seven minutes left in the first half. Carolina responded with seven consecutive points, ending with a 3-pointer and layup from Paris.
Pitt outscored UNC 8–3 over the last 5:45 of the first half to take a 33–29 halftime lead after the Heels were 3 of 14 from the floor in the second quarter. The Panthers ballooned their lead eight on a Liatu King free throw three minutes into the second half.
Carolina surged back with a 6–2 run to cut it to three on a pair of Kelly free throws with 3:50 left in the third period. A Todd-Williams 3-pointer, UNC’s first field goal in nearly 5½ minutes, cut the lead to 44–42 with 26 seconds left. Todd-Williams’ two free throws with three seconds left tied it at 44 heading into the fourth quarter.
An Ustby layup in with 8:16 left gave UNC its first lead in more than 17 minutes, and started that decisive fourth-quarter run. Carolina pushed the lead up to 18 after never previously leading by more than three.
Harris led Pittsburgh with 16 points, with King adding 12 points and nine rebounds and Amber Brown scoring 11.
NOTES — Carolina is on the road against Sunday, facing Clemson at 4 p.m. Sunday (ACC Network). The Tigers (13–9, 4–6) lost 85–74 Thursday night at Georgia Tech for their fifth loss in the last seven games. … The 72 points was UNC’s highest output in an ACC game. … Adams’ earlier start was when Kelly sat out the South Carolina State game on Nov. 16 with an injury. … Carolina has won four consecutive games against the Panthers to take a 7–6 lead in the series with only the Tar Heels’ second win in six meetings at Pittsburgh. … UNC has won six consecutive ACC games for the first time since the first six league games of the 2012–13 season. … After UNC played before home crowds of 6,319, 5,003 and 4,418 in the last three games, the atmosphere at the Petersen Events Center was dramatically different with only 571 fans.
No. 15 UNC 72, Pitt 57
UNC lineup combinations
|No. 10 Notre Dame||15–3||24–4|
|No. 11 Duke||14–4||24–5|
|No. 9 Virginia Tech||14–4||24–4|
|No. 23 Florida State||12–6||23–8|
|No. 22 North Carolina||11–7||20–9|
No. 9 Virginia Tech 61, No. 22 North Carolina 59
No. 10 Notre Dame 76, Georgia Tech 53
No. 23 Florida State 61, Wake Forest 60
Syracuse 85, Pittsburgh 55
Louisville 71, Miami 50
Clemson 79, Virginia 69
No. 11 Duke 77, N.C. State 62
No. 22 North Carolina 45, No. 11 Duke 41
No. 10 Notre Dame 68, Louisville, noon, ESPN3
Miami 84, Virginia 75
Boston College 73, Wake Forest 63
Clemson 74, No. 23 Florida State 61
N.C. State 68, Pittsburgh at 63
No. 9 Virginia Tech 65, Georgia Tech 52
End of regular season
|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. 17 Iowa State||Portland||6–0|
|December||ACC/Big Ten Challenge|
|1||Thursday||L, 87–63||No. 2 Indiana||Bloomington, Ind.||6–1|
|16||Friday||W, 89–47||USC Upstate||Home||9–1|
|20||Tuesday||L, 76–68||No. 18 Michigan||Charlotte||9–2|
|ACC season begins|
|29||Thursday||L, 78–71||Florida State||Home||9–3, 0–1 ACC|
|1||Sunday||L, 68–65||No. 4 |
|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||N.C. State||Home||12–5, |
|19||Thursday||W, 61–56||No. 13 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||L, 75–67||Syracuse||Syracuse||17–7, |
|12||Sunday||W, 73–55||Boston College||Home||18–7, |
|16||Thursday||L, 77–66, OT||N.C. State||Raleigh||18–8, |
|19||Sunday||W, 71–58||Wake Forest||Home||19–8, |
|23||Thursday||L, 61–59||No. 4 |
|26||Sunday||W, 45–41||No. 13 Duke||Durham||20–9, |
|3||Friday||L, 44–40||No. 13 Duke||Greensboro||21–10|
|18||Saturday||W, 61–59||St. John’s||Columbus, Ohio||22–10|
|20||Monday||L, 71–69||No. 12 Ohio State||Columbus, Ohio||22–11|
Photo courtesy of Pitt Athletics