Making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in four seasons, the North Carolina women’s basketball team entered the event with a considerable disadvantage in experience.
It showed on Saturday.
Eighth-seeded Cal stormed back after a horrible first quarter to top the ninth-seeded Tar Heels 92-72 in a first-round game in the Greensboro Region at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. The Golden Bears will next play the winner of the Saturday night game between top-seeded and host Baylor and 16th-seeded Abilene Christian.
Not a single player on the Tar Heels (18-15) had ever played in a tournament game before Saturday. Nonetheless, they led the Golden Bears 22-11 after one period, scoring the game’s first five points and then going on an 8-0 run that spanned nearly four minutes.
But it was all Cal from there.
Recee Caldwell opened the scoring in the second quarter with a jumper to make it 22-13, then spent the rest of the period chipping away at the lead. Caldwell would score four points and assist on another five in the period, and by halftime Cal (20-12) was within three at 40-37.
Asha Thomas scored 11 of her team-high 19 points in the period for the Golden Bears, who are in the tournament for the third straight season.
Layups by Kristine Anigwe (who finished with 18 points and 22 rebounds) and Thomas to open the third period gave the Golden Bears their first lead at 41-40 a minute into the second half. The Tar Heels responded, however, scoring seven of the game’s next 10 points to lead 47-43 with 7:39 to play in the quarter. Paris Kea, who finished with a game-high 22 points, scored North Carolina’s final five points in the run.
The teams then went back-and-forth for the next five-plus minutes, but a 3-pointer by Thomas gave Cal a 56-54 lead with 2:07 to play in the third, and the Golden Bears closed out the quarter on a 10-2 run to take a 63-56 lead into the fourth.
The Tar Heels would never get closer than seven.
Jaelyn Brown added 16 points for Cal while CJ West scored 13 off the bench. Caldwell scored nine points and handed out 12 assists.
Kea led four Tar Heels in double-digit scoring, with Janelle Bailey scoring 15 points, Shayla Bennett adding 14 and Taylor Koenen tallying 13.
—Field Level Media