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ACC update: North Carolina upsets Notre Dame in a thrilling finish

This past weekend featured some incredible ACC games. Here are a few of the most memorable moments from UNC, Virginia Tech and Duke.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 07 Women’s North Carolina at Notre Dame
North Carolina’s Indya Nivar and Alyssa Ustby celebrate the Tarheels’ win over then-No. 16 Notre Dame with teammates.
Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

ACC basketball is well under way and it has not disappointed. While there have been plenty of upsets and nail-biting finishes, here are some of the best in-conference games so far:

No. 20 North Carolina (11-4, 3-0) defeats No. 18 Notre Dame (10-3, 1-2), 61-57

The Tar Heels picked up their biggest win of the season with a road victory against the Fighting Irish on Sunday. Carolina did a great job limiting Notre Dame’s freshman star Hannah Hidalgo’s shot attempts. There were stretches in the first half when the Tar Heels prevented Hidalgo from making a field goal for almost five minutes.

Indya Nivar was huge off the bench for UNC, leading the team in scoring with 16 points. For a few possessions, Nivar took advantage of Hidalgo’s aggressive defensive approach to back cut her for layups, opening up easy creation opportunities for her teammates. At the half, the Tar Heels led Notre Dame 31-28.

In the third quarter, the Irish broke out their infamous zone defense and it created confusion for the Tar Heel offense. Hidalgo got a few layups in transition after the team forced turnovers. However, one thing remained constant for the Tar Heels: Nivar continued to punish the Irish defense with timely angle and face cuts that prevented Notre Dame from securing the momentum. With just under two minutes remaining in the third, Notre Dame took a 46-39 lead but the UNC closed the quarter on a 6-0 run due to great defense and a timely-buzzer beater by Lexi Donarski.

To start the fourth, North Carolina broke out a halfcourt trap that forced turnovers and slowed the Irish offense down immensely. Nivar absolutely took over, scoring the first seven points of the quarter. With the Tar Heels leading by one with just under two minutes remaining, Nivar capped off a remarkable night with a difficult left-hand scoop layup to put the Tar Heels ahead by three. After a stop on defense, North Carolina made their free throws and walked out of the Joyce Center in South Bend with a 61-58 win.

Nivar finished with 16 points and 5 steals and the Tar Heels—who vaulted back into the top 25 at No. 20—improved to 3-0 in ACC play.

No. 11 Virginia Tech (12-2, 3-0) defeats No. 6 NC State (14-1, 2-1), 62-61

This game lived up to all the expectations and more. Two top-15 teams—and the highest-ranked teams in the ACC—went down the wire in a classic game. The Wolfpack started the game attacking the Hokies wings in empty side pick-and-rolls and isolations. They generated some good looks out of these actions, but shots were not falling for them. The game remained close in the first half despite poor shooting from both teams.

The Hokies went zone in the second quarter and it was fairly effective, taking away many of the open 3s the Wolfpack were generating. On the offensive end, Virginia Tech turned to the reliable Elizabeth Kitley for post touches. In the third quarter Virginia Tech continued playing zone. The Wolfpack attacked Kitley in the zone by running spread pick-and-roll and punishing the drop coverage scheme. The third quarter was defined by difficult shotmaking, with the Wolfpack building a lead as large as 13 in the period.

However, the fourth quarter that saw a reversal of fortunes for Virginia Tech. Georgia Amoore absolutely caught fire, hitting sidestep fadeaways and hanging learners over two defenders. Amoore scored 18 of her 21 points in the second half. Kitley and Amoore put the team on their backs, scoring all 18 of the Hokies’ fourth-quarter points. Trailing by one point with 2.1 seconds remaining in the game, Cayla King threw a gorgeous inbounds pass to her high school teammate Elizabeth Kitley, who scored the game-winning layup with 0.9 seconds remaining and handed the Wolfpack their first loss of the season.

Duke (10-5, 2-2) defeats Virginia (8-6, 0-3), 60-56

This game was the definition of a defensive battle as both teams struggled to score in the first half. Virginia shot under 30 percent from the field and Duke shot only 11 percent from 3.

In the second quarter, Duke built a nine-point lead and held Virginia scoreless for almost five minutes. Duke maintained a single-digit lead for the entire game until the fourth quarter. Virginia held the Blue Devils without a made field goal for the final four minutes of the game, but Duke’s defense and Virginia’s continued struggles from outside allowed the Blue Devils to prevail 60-56 and move to 2-2 in ACC play and 10-5 overall.