The North Carolina women’s basketball team lost its season opener on Friday evening in a heartbreaking 66-65 loss against Gardner-Webb University in Carmichael Arena.
UNC is ranked 22nd in the AP preseason poll and 20th in the USA Today Sports Coaches’ poll. However, unranked Gardner-Webb overcame a 15-point deficit going into the fourth period to steal a win on the road. With 1.7 seconds remaining in the game and the Tar Heels up 65-64, a layup from Gardner-Webb’s Candace Brown put the Runnin’ Bulldogs on top.
In a game that saw nine lead changes, seven ties and a 25-24 UNC deficit at intermission, the Tar Heels looked poised to win when they finally broke away from the Runnin’ Bulldogs with a 51-36 lead, their largest lead of the game. However, in the fourth period, Gardner Webb’s four three-pointers and three offensive rebounds helped to lift them over UNC.
“We should’ve won,” said UNC head coach Sylvia Hatchell. “We were up by 15 to start the fourth quarter and we just left some shooters open. We didn’t get the rebounds, we missed some shots that we should’ve made. I thought we got a lot of good shots and we missed shots that we should’ve made.”
There will be a learning curve, as the Tar Heels’ roster this year includes three freshmen, two of which played in Friday’s game.
“Some of that is the youthfulness on our team,” Coach Hatchell said. “We got some kids out there, we got two freshmen all the time, and we got some other kids that are still learning. The good thing is we’ll continue to get better and better, but I thought we got a lot of really good shots, but we’ve got to make those shots. They’ve got to learn that things in high school you can’t do at this level, and that’s going to take some time.”
In the first collegiate games of their careers, freshman guards Stephanie Watts and Destinee Walker contributed 10 and 11 points, respectively.
Trailing with only seven seconds left in the game, sophomore guard Jamie Cherry added a late three-pointer in what may have appeared to UNC fans as the go-ahead shot, putting the Tar Heels back on top 65-64.
Cherry said she was hoping it would be the last shot of the game.
“We kind of got lost in the last play. Everybody, I guess, just assumed that they were going to call back-court and as soon as everybody stood up, that’s when she started driving to the basket.”
Cherry, who was perfect in her seven free-throws attempts, contributed a career-high 25 points. Forward Hillary Summers additionally had career-high numbers, with 13 points of her own.
Despite only being a sophomore, Coach Hatchell said Cherry’s experience is invaluable to the team, as she provided big plays both in Friday’s game and also last season.
“She did that for us last year, in probably three or four games,” Coach Hatchell said. “Jamie made the big shots at the end and she wants the ball. Now we’ve got to get more of them wanting the ball.”
Overall, Gardner-Webb’s Candace Brown led the team with 17 points, while Alexus Hill contributed 14. It was not until the 3:32 mark of the second period that the Runnin’ Bulldogs had a lead.
Coach Hatchell said despite the loss, the team will keep working and battling for every game. Up next for the Tar Heels is a Sunday afternoon game against Oregon.
“Gardner-Webb is a good team, and I don’t want to take anything away from them,” Coach Hatchell said. “We’ll continue to work and get better. We’ll practice in the morning and we’ve got Oregon in here on Sunday afternoon and that’ll be a new challenge and a new opportunity.”