The best thing about a winning streak is that it builds confidence. The longer the streak, the more confident a team gets. Going into Sunday’s contest, the Fightin’ Irish Women’s Basketball team was riding a three game winning streak in the ACC. The need for a solid forty minutes is crucial to a team that is learning a new coaching style and facing some continued adversity.
Both teams struggled out of the gate. Offensive rebounding was not in the cards. The first quarter yielded no offensive rebounds and with that there are no second chance points to be scored on the possession. The first quarter saw the Irish possess the ball on seventeen possessions. They attempted six jumpers, in which they converted on two. On four layup’s they converted on three and attempted seven three pointers in which the converted on two of them. The Tar Hells also forced four turnovers in the quarter.
The Tar Heels defense spread the Irish offense and were taking advantage of it. Mental mistakes is what plagued the Irish in the quarter on offense. The Irish defense was great though. Ten defensive rebounds kept the the Tar Heels second chance points low as well. Sam Brunelle lead the Irish scorers with eight points in the opening frame with two three pointers as part of the total. Maddy Westbeld was next with four points. 17-16 after ten minutes of play.
The second quarter opened with a 7-0 run by the Tar Heels. The rim and offensive end of the floor was not nice to the Irish. Three missed shots and three turnovers in the first 2:45 of the second quarter. Westbeld would stop the streak by converting on two free throws at 6:50. After a jumper by Dara Mabrey, missed shots continued to plague the Irish. The Tar Heel defense built a cushion of a fourteen point lead at 3:34 to go in the quarter, but the Irish charged back.
Erasing a fourteen point deficit is what the Irish offense and defense wanted to remove. Two free throws by Abby Prohaska, a three pointer by Mabrey, two more free throws from Destinee Walker, saw the Irish go on a 7-0 run of a minute. The close out the quarter with a four point deficit and a score of 39-35 Tar heels. Mabrey led all Irish scorers with seven points in the quarter.
Adjustments are key when you are down four points at the half and they did just that. The Irish open with a 4-0 run, to tie the game at 39-39, courtesy on Anaya Peoples and Prohaska. The Tar Heels go on their own 5-0 run, then the Irish storm back. A three pointer by Mabrey, and a layup by Brunelle send the Irish to the lead at 5:37 in the third quarter. Mabrey pushes the lead to 51-47 on another incredible three. The Irish would get the lead to six before the Tar Heels score again. Mabrey would close out all the scoring with a three pointer at 1:06 to end the quarter with an Irish lead of 58-54.
The goal to closing a game is to control the tempo in the fourth quarter. The Irish and the Tar Heels whent back and forth trading baskets to start the last block. Both teams traded misses as well. Walker got a fast break basket, Westbeld drained a jumper, Peoples got a fast break basket and Mabrey drilled a three pointer, and Vaughn capped seven point lead with her lay up. Have you ever heard of the announcers jinx? We all have and I cast my jinx at the mid-point of the fourth quarter.
Calling a time out to refocus is so critical. With the Irish up five playing solid defense and converting on the offensive end should seal a victory. Then it happened. The Irish were shutdown by the Tar Heels. The Tar heels close out on a 13-3 run and spoils the Irish winning streak. The Irish were held scoreless for the final 2:54 of the game. Missed opportunities in the paint results in an Irish loss 78-73.
The Wrap Up
Games are not lost in the fourth quarter. It’s a series of events if not overcome that sets a team up for a loss. The lack of offensive rebounds in the first half, coupled missed opportunities throughout the game tallies up to a loss. Closing out the game is the toughest part of a game. Even when winning, you can’t assume a lead is safe. You need to finish strong and that is where the Irish fell short on Sunday afternoon.
Next up for the Irish is Syracuse on the road at 11 A.M. EST January 31st.
Cheers and Go Irish! ☘🏀🌩