CHAPEL HILL, N.C (AP) — Fifth-ranked Louisville went from looking dominant in the first half at North Carolina to clinging to a shrinking lead on the road in the final minutes.
Still, the Cardinals were good enough to remain unbeaten in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Dana Evans scored 22 points and Louisville held on to beat UNC 74-67 on Sunday, earning its 10th straight win despite letting a 20-point lead slip all the way to four in the final 90 seconds.
“The ending will be something we can talk to them about with execution,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “We kind of stood and watched each other. Whoever had the ball, we’d watch and see what kind of play they were going to make. In the first half, I thought everybody moved without the ball, which caused them problems.
“So we’ve just got to get back to that and then we’ve just got to take care of the ball better.”
The Cardinals (18-1, 7-0 ACC) looked dominant in that opening half, jumping to a double-figure lead by midway through the first quarter and pushing that margin to 45-25 shortly before hafltime. They shot the ball well (59%) and capitalized an array of uncharacteristic turnovers from the Tar Heels to score 16 points off those mistakes.
Yet when UNC stopped giving the ball away, the Cardinals shot 9 of 26 (34.6%) after halftime.
Taylor Koenen and Madinah Muhammad each scored 17 points for the Tar Heels (13-5, 4-3), who got as close as 71-67 on Koenen’s contested stepback 3-pointer with 1:22 left.
They had taken down a top-10 opponent less than two weeks ago by beating rival North Carolina State to give new coach Courtney Banghart her first marquee win here. UNC rallied from a double-figure deficit in that one, but couldn’t quite pull off another big comeback at home.
“They have the heart of champions, you can tell,” Banghart said. “So they have a little bit of leeway there, but we’re taking too much liberty with it.
“There’s a mindset where you say, ‘I’m going to throw the first punch.’ This team isn’t used to doing that, this program isn’t used to doing that in the last five years or so. … I just thought we had way too many wasted possessions in the first half, on both ends.”
Louisville: The Cardinals arrived with a resume that includes a marquee win against then-No. 1 Oregon and no losses since falling at Ohio State on Dec. 5. Louisville improved to 36-3 in league games and 31-3 in true road games over the past three seasons.
UNC: The Tar Heels were off to their best ACC start since the 2014-15 season, but they dug themselves a big hole with so many turnovers — some forced by Louisville’s defense and others simply unforced mistakes by sailing passes straight out of bounds. UNC surpassed its league-low season average of 11.4 per game in that opening half and had more turnovers (12) than made baskets (11).
CAUSE AND EFFECT
UNC committed just two turnovers after halftime and outscored Louisville 22-12 in the fourth quarter.
“Simple as that,” Banghart said. “We have five people that can score at a high level. So if you just get a shot every time, you’re going to win the game.”
Evans agreed with Walz’s critique of his team’s fouls in the second half, which allowed the Tar Heels to make 9 of 10 free throws to help them hang around and ultimately climb back in it this one.
“I think we had some silly fouls toward the end,” Evans said. “I think we need to start making people score over us instead of sending them to the free-throw line.”
Jazmine Jones had 19 points for Louisville. … Evans hit two free throws with 22 seconds left to give Louisville a 73-67 lead. … Janelle Bailey had 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting with eight rebounds for UNC. … The Cardinals finished with a 33-24 rebounding advantage.
Louisville: The Cardinals host Virginia on Thursday.
UNC: The Tar Heels visit Georgia Tech on Thursday.
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