CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Paris Kea and North Carolina gave Coach Sylvia Hatchell the “wow” moment she had asked for: an upset of top-ranked Notre Dame.
Kea had season highs of 30 points and 10 assists as she helped the Tar Heels stun the Fighting Irish, 78-73, on Sunday, earning the program’s first win against a No. 1-ranked team in nearly 13 years.
The loss ended a 198-game winning streak by No. 1 teams against unranked teams, according to ESPN. Additionally, Notre Dame had won its five meetings against U.N.C. since joining the Atlantic Coast Conference by 25, 10, 34, 22 and 32 points.
Stephanie Watts added 19 points for the Tar Heels (12-9, 3-4), who played with confidence nearly all afternoon and stayed on the attack behind Kea’s hot hand.
“We didn’t come into this game nervous,” Watts said. “We’re a good team. We’re a better team than what our record shows. We knew this was going to be a tough competitive game, and we were going to play it out to the end.”
North Carolina led by 10 early in the fourth quarter before Notre Dame ran off 12 points and took the lead. But instead of crumpling, the Tar Heels held tough.
Leah Church, who came in averaging 3.3 points a game, made a 3-pointer from the left corner with 1 minute 25 seconds left, breaking a 71-71 tie and putting U.N.C. ahead for good. Kea hit two free throws in the final 20 seconds, helping keep control for the Tar Heels, who mobbed one another as the horn sounded.
Kea was unstoppable for much of the day, finishing 11 of 17 from the field and 5 of 8 on 3-point shots. Watts also had five 3s, a reminder that the Tar Heels have a potent 1-2 punch on the perimeter.
It was the Tar Heels’ first win against the Fighting Irish since Notre Dame joined the A.C.C. in the 2013-14 season, along with the program’s first win against the nation’s top-ranked team since a victory over Duke in a 1-versus-2 matchup in February 2006.
“These kids have worked really, really hard,” Hatchell said. “We had a great game plan. They executed it, and we’ve talked the last few days about how we wanted to have a ‘wow’ moment.”
It certainly was a surprise, given that the reigning national champion Irish (19-2, 6-1) had faced relatively little stress in league play and had suffered their only loss to Connecticut.
But Notre Dame turned in a mistake-filled performance without Jackie Young, who had a triple-double in Thursday’s victory over Tennessee. A team spokesman, Josh Bates, said Young had sprained her right ankle in practice Saturday.
Marina Mabrey had 20 points, leading Notre Dame, which shot 49 percent but had 20 turnovers and could not stop Kea.
“She was the best player on the floor,” Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw said. “We had no answer for her. Just couldn’t guard her from anywhere — couldn’t contain her, couldn’t guard her off the 3-point line. It was really disappointing to see our defense collapse like that.”
The Fighting Irish had cruised through their first six conference games, including a 14-point win in a 1-versus-2 matchup against Louisville. The other five games had come against unranked opponents, and Notre Dame had led each by double figures at halftime on the way to easy wins. That edge never showed up in Chapel Hill, particularly with the turnovers — many coming with players just sailing passes straight out of bounds.
“I don’t know,” McGraw said when asked about the turnover problem. “We clearly weren’t playing our normal game.”
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