Freshman guard Stephanie Watts’ 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the University of North Carolina a 59-58 women’s basketball victory over the University of Maine at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on Wednesday afternoon.
The Black Bears (9-6) had erased a 15-point first-half deficit and a 13-point second-half disadvantage to take a 58-56 lead with 5.7 seconds remaining on a Sigi Koizar basket.
Under a rule implemented by the NCAA this season, UNC (10-5) inbounded the ball from the frontcourt instead of the backcourt.
Maine’s Chantel Charles forced a tie-up with 2.1 seconds remaining, but the possession arrow belonged to UNC. Watts inbounded along the end line near the Maine basket to Xylina McDaniel at the top of the key and McDaniel immediately gave her a return pass in the corner. Watts was wide open and buried her 3-pointer.
“We didn’t execute very well,” said Maine coach Richard Barron. “They do two things out of that set: One is a lob (into the post) and the other is going back to the inbounder. We had fouls to give so we were supposed to foul on the catch (from the inbounds pass).
“But (Watts) still had to make a difficult shot at the buzzer. She’s awfully good,” added Barron.
Watts said she noticed that, “they weren’t guarding me on the out-of-bounds (pass) and that’s a play we run a lot when they don’t. I looked at coach (Sylvia) Hatchell and asked if that’s what we should do. She was like ‘Yeah, go for it’ basically, so we ran it.”
Hatchell explained that the Black Bears were double-teaming McDaniel and “whenever a team plays zone or (double-teams) like that, the most open person is the one throwing the ball in. (Watts) tapped it to (McDaniel), went behind the three and (McDaniel) threw it to her. We’ve done that five of six times this year.”
It was UNC’s fourth straight win.
Watts finished with 18 points for the winners. She also had six rebounds and three assists.
N’Dea Bryant and Hillary Summers scored 10 points apiece and Summers had a game-high 11 rebounds. Bryant grabbed six rebounds.
Destinee Walker contributed nine points and four assists and Jamie Cherry had five assists to go with five points.
Junior guard Koizar wound up with 21 points and seven assists, both game-highs, and she also hauled down eight rebounds to lead the Black Bears.
“(Koizar) was tough, she was really tough,” said Hatchell, who called Maine a “very good team.”
Sophie Weckstrom had 18 points on a career-high six 3-pointers.
Mikaela Gustafsson had 10 points and 10 rebounds for her first career double-double and added four assists. Liz Wood chipped in with seven points and six rebounds. Bella Swan corralled seven rebounds.
The Black Bears trailed 45-32 early in the second half but rallied behind Koizar and Weckstrom, who each had six points during a 15-2 run spanning the third and fourth quarters to tie it 47-47 with 5:26 left.
The teams swapped points until Koizar’s conventional three-point play gave Maine a 54-53 lead with 49 seconds remaining. She then hit two free throws 30 seconds later to expand the lead to 56-53.
Watts’ 3-pointer tied it with 15 seconds left but Koizar drove the lane to give Maine its 58-56 lead.
Barron and Weckstrom said Watts’ buzzer-beater wasn’t the only decisive moment in the game.
“We played well to get the lead but not well enough to have a bigger lead,” said Barron. “We missed a lot of easy shots. We missed six uncontested layups.”
“If we hadn’t missed those layups early in the game, we wouldn’t have been in that situation at the end,” said Weckstrom.
Barron said his team didn’t play well in the first and third quarters, managing just 18 points combined.
“We weren’t aggressive. We didn’t move the ball quick enough. When we stand around dribbling the ball and taking the air out of it, we’re easy to guard,” said Barron.
But Barron and Weckstrom noted that there were plenty of positives as they move into America East play on Wednesday night at Vermont.
“This will give us a lot of confidence going into our conference games,” Weckstrom said.
“Maybe a heart-breaking loss like this will have a big impact on our team and they’ll learn a lesson from it,” said Barron. “Our kids are very good at analyzing a game so the next step for our program is to (play well) from the beginning of the game.”