North Carolina women pull away late to beat Stephen F. Austin

Published 10:08 pm Saturday, March 19, 2022

By JOHN MARSHALL

AP Basketball Writer

TUCSON, Ariz. — Deja Kelly scored 28 points, Kennedy Todd-Williams added 15 and North Carolina pulled away in the fourth quarter Saturday night to beat Stephen F. Austin 79-66 in the first round of the women’s NCAA Tournament.

The Tar Heels (24-6), the No. 5 seed in the Greensboro Region, struggled with turnovers and defensive rebounding while falling into an early 10-point hole. But they dominated the fourth quarter, hitting 7 of 13 shots and using a 10-0 run to build an 11-point lead after trailing most of the afternoon.

The Tar Heels, who were ranked 17th in the final Associated Press poll, move on to face either Arizona or UNLV in the second round on Monday.

Zya Nugent scored 26 points for No. 12 seed Stephen F. Austin (28-5), which was eyeing another in a string of lower-seed wins in this year’s bracket. The Ladyjacks led by 10 midway through the second quarter and were still up heading into the fourth.

But SFA folded under North Carolina’s pressure in the final quarter, shooting 3 of 13 to end what had been a memorable first season in the Western Athletic Conference.

The Ladyjacks had given teams trouble all season with their full-court press, leading the nation with a plus-8.3 turnover margin on the way to winning the WAC regular-season title.

The Tar Heels refused to get sped up, methodically passing the ball up the floor to break the press.
Half-court sets were another story. North Carolina had several sloppy turnovers in the first half — 10 total — and had a hard time keeping the Ladyjacks off the offensive glass.

SFA opened the second quarter with 10-0 run to go up 10, but didn’t score over the final 2:49 to allow the Tar Heels to pull within 36-33 at halftime. The Ladyjacks scored 14 points off 10 first-half offensive rebounds.

Both teams started hot and went cold in the third quarter. SFA led 56-64 despite a 4 1/2-minute scoreless drought.

SFA continued to struggle offensively, unable to hit anything until Nugent banked in a 3-pointer to end the long field goal-less drought.

North Carolina turned stops into points, going on a 10-0 run to take a 70-59 lead and kept SFA at bay by playing well at both ends of the floor.

BIG PICTURE

Stephen F. Austin: Did nearly everything right the first three quarters, setting up the possibility of an upset. The Ladyjacks struggled when North Carolina turned up the defensive pressure to remain winless in the NCAA Tournament since 2000.

North Carolina: Had its hands full with a scrappy team from the WAC. The Tar Heels finally clicked in the fourth quarter, winning an NCAA Tournament game for the first time since 2015.

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More AP coverage of March Madness: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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