Paulina Paris is the No. 27 Hoop Gurlz recruit and had already had games of 13, 15 and 15 points entering Sunday. So her career-high 16 on 3-of-4 shooting from three to lead her No. 22 UNC Tar Heels past the No. 4 Notre Dame Fighting Irish wasn’t completely out of nowhere, but it is certainly the most memorable performance of her young career thus far given the circumstances.
Paris stole most of the Irish’s remaining positive energy by single-handedly dueling them over the fist 4:18 of the fourth quarter, a battle she won 11-9, including a key 8-2 stretch that brought it from 40-38 UNC to 48-40 UNC and ensured Notre Dame never got closer than within two in the final frame of an eventual 60-50 loss at Carmichael Arena in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In the remaining 5:42, the Irish never got closer than within five. There was still enough time left when they cut it to five at 4:04, 2:36 and 1:44, but the most spirited stretch of their comeback effort was topped by Paris’ heroics and the rest of the contest was simply a matter of UNC trading baskets and making free throws to seal it.
A Paris three made it 43-38 at the 8:10 mark of the fourth. Then, Olivia Miles made it seem like she was going to find a way to bring Notre Dame back when she threw a dart from beyond the arc to Sonia Citron under the basket for a layup that cut it to 43-40. It was the type of play we’ve come to expect from the best passer in the country. But Paris answered with the next five points on a layup and another three. Hoping to prevent the Notre Dame momentum from dying completely, Citron buried a three at 6:04 that cut it to 48-43, but Paris moved up to 11 points in the fourth with a layup that made it 50-43 at 5:42.
Paris was on fire from beyond the arc and demonstrated her ability to drive and finish at the basket as well.
SHE’S A FRESHMAN Y’ALL!!!— Carmichael Arena (@CarmichaelArena) January 8, 2023
A Maddy Westbeld mid-range make and a Citron 3-point play off a nice pass from Dara Mabrey opened the third and gave Notre Dame a 30-22 lead. But the higher-ranked team would not run away with the contest from there. Instead, Alyssa Ustby sparked an 18-4 Tar Heel run with a mid-court steal turned layup. After a Lauren Ebo free throw, UNC went on a 9-0 run within the 18-4 run that featured a Deja Kelly three that bounced high off the rim and in and an Ustby layup off a nice cut right down the lane. Paris’ first point of the fourth on a free throw capped the run and put the Heels up 40-34 with 9:48 remaining.
The Irish were down 13-7 after one, but had a positive second quarter, the only lowlight of which was when Destiny Adams grabbed an airball and put back an easy layup to extend UNC’s lead to 15-7. The Heels would score again in the frame, but the Irish were always in control of the momentum.
It took a Citron poke-away of an inbound pass to spark the Notre Dame comeback. She took it the other way, was fouled and made two free throws to cut it to 15-9. Miles followed with a pretty step-back mid-range make and then an Ebo steal led to a Miles layup in transition, cutting it to 15-13.
Kelly then hit from mid-range on what was rare wide-open look for her to step the bleeding for UNC, but Notre Dame answered with a 7-0 run to take a 20-17 lead. Mabrey constructed a 5-0 individual run to close out that run with a mid-range make and a three.
Miles made the play of the first half when she collected a steal, sped past Ustby in transition and finished with a layup that made it 22-19 Irish. Notre Dame would lead 25-22 at the break.
The Heels opened with a Kennedy Todd-Williams three, a Kelly mid-range make and an Anya Poole layup for a 7-0 start. The Irish cut it to four on a short Miles fade in the paint at the 6:46 mark of the opening frame and on a Ebo layup at 3:05, but would not get any closer in the first.
Kelly finished with 14 points, three assists and two steals, while Ustby notched 12 points, three steal and three blocks and Todd-Williams had nine points and seven boards.
Ebo hauled in 19 rebounds to go along with her seven points and three steals in defeat. Miles added 15 points, seven boards, five helpers and two steals.
The Irish were an awful 2-of-22 from distance in the contest. Miles was 0-of-4, Westbeld was 0-of-3 and Mabrey was 1-of-11. UNC outshot Notre Dame 35.6 percent to 28.1 percent from the field. The Irish’s 50 points marked a season low, 13 points lower than the previous mark.
DOWN. GOES. #4 NOTRE DAME.— Chapel Thrill (@ThrillChapel) January 8, 2023
What a crowd!! What an environment in @CarmichaelArena!!! @uncwbb wins its ACC-best 3rd game against a Top 25 team this season!!! So proud of these ladies and coaches! See y’all back in Carmichael next Sunday vs State! pic.twitter.com/lkGIwjZQlf