Leading up to Sunday’s game against No. 1 Notre Dame, North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell had each of her players talk about the times in their lives when they had experienced a “wow” moment. One by one, players shared their stories.
It wasn’t until the day of the game, with her players gathered in the locker room, that Hatchell shared her own story. She pulled out a sonogram and showed it to her team. Players were puzzled.
She told them, “here’s my ‘wow’ moment. I’m going to be a grandmother.”
When they heard the news, the team jumped in excitement.
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They eventually settled down and agreed it was time to experience a “wow” moment together. They wanted to take down Notre Dame.
And on Sunday they did, defeating the Fighting Irish 78-73 at home. It was a huge win for the Tar Heels, one that few were expecting. Notre Dame, which won the national championship in 2018, had won 19 of its first 20 games to start the season. The only loss was against powerhouse UConn.
“I’m happy for them because they’ve worked so hard and they deserve it,” Hatchell said. “We’ve come up short in several games and I’ve thought, ‘just get over the hump, just get over the hump’. For me, it’s fun for them to have this experience.”
It was the Tar Heels’ third win against a No. 1 ranked team in program history and first over a No. 1 ranked team while uranked. The previous wins were against Duke, in 2005 and 2006. The Tar Heels’ win also snapped a 198-game losing streak by unranked teams against No. 1 ranked women’s teams, according to ESPN.
“It’s a big deal, it really is,” Hatchell said, “but I’m not that surprised to be honest with you. I don’t want to take anything from Notre Dame. They’re awesome, but I’ve been telling our kids all year, you guys are really good.”
UNC’s slow start
The Tar Heels lost four of their first five ACC games. They lost to No. 24 Florida State by one point, No. 3 Louisville by seven points, No. 18 Syracuse by 13, and Miami, which received votes in the AP Poll, by eight.
Before beating Notre Dame (19-2), the Tar Heels (12-9) defeated Virginia Tech 81-69 in Blacksburg, Va..
Against the Fighting Irish, the Tar Heels were led by senior guard Paris Kea, who scored 30 points and had 10 assists. Both were season-highs. She was 11 of 17 from the floor and 5 of 8 from behind the 3-point line. Kea also became the fourth Division I player in the last 20 years to have a 30-point, 10-assists game against a ranked opponent.
“It’s been kind of fun,” Kea said when asked what it’s been like after the win. “A lot of people were just saying congratulations.”
She said she got about 100 calls and texts from friends and family members after the win.
The health factor
Kea, who had been hampered by a foot injury earlier this season, said she tried to focus on being explosive and not worry about whether she’d re-injure her foot.
“In the past two games, I’ve seen progress, and it just so happened that against Notre Dame, I felt like my complete self,” Kea said.
Hatchell said Kea’s health played a big factor in how well the Tar Heels played. Kea is the Tar Heels’ lone senior and third-leading scorer.
It has been a struggle for the Tar Heels in recent years, but Hatchell, who is in her 33rd season as the head coach at UNC, believes the win could be a program changer. The Tar Heels have finished with three consecutive losing seasons and have not made it to a NCAA tournament since the 2014-15 season.
“I’m really excited about where the program is and more than anything else about the future,” she said. “Hopefully we can keep the ball rolling. That was a big win, no doubt about it.”