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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) – Olivia Cochran scored 14 of her 17 points in the first half to lead top-ranked Louisville, which withstood a late rally to beat North Carolina 79-68 on Thursday night.
The Cardinals (16-0, 9-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) started strong. They made eight of their first 10 shots to take a 21-9 lead in less than six minutes and built a 67-35 lead late in the third quarter.
But the Tar Heels (8-6, 3-6) made things interesting with a 17-0 second-half run. They got it down to an eight-point deficit with 1:18 left, but they could not get any closer.
Cochran ended the first half with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the wing to make it 55-30. It was the first trey of the season for the 6-foot-3 freshman.
The Cardinals, who are 16-0 for the second time in school history, built that big lead by going toe-to-toe with one of the conference’s top rebounding (10.7 average margin) and defensive (34.7%) teams. Through three quarters, they shot 53 percent and held a 27-22 edge on the boards.
But Louisville coach Jeff Walz took the blame for letting UNC back in the contest as he said he had some ”bad combinations” on the court. He also didn’t call a time out as the Cardinals went more than six minutes without a basket.
”I was trying to see if they could figure it out and try to come up with a couple of stops,” he said.
UNC lost for the fourth time in their last five games. They’ve also yet to win on the road in four tries this season.
Tar Heels coach Courtney Banghart said she thought Louisville might have sensed an opportunity early in the game thanks to No. 2 N.C. State losing earlier in the evening at Virginia Tech.
”I think they felt like they could have some separation, and they played like in that first quarter, holy moly, and throughout the game,” she said. ”Obviously, once we got through the onslaught, we were fine, but that onslaught was a little hard to gather from.”
Petra Holesinska scored a season-best 26 points to lead the Tar Heels.
It hasn’t been easy for Louisville since earning the No. 1 ranking for the first time in school history, but the Cardinals keep winning. With N.C. State, Louisville’s next foe, and UConn losing Thursday, it should give Louisville a firm grasp on that position for another week.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels dug themselves way too deep a hole Thursday night but certainly put a scare into the Cardinals in the final 10 minutes.
Louisville: For nearly three quarters, Louisville looked unbeatable. They shot well and, until the end, outrebounded the Tar Heels. However, they let a 32-point lead get down to single digits in a matter of minutes.
North Carolina visits Virginia Tech on Sunday afternoon.
Louisville hosts current No. 2 N.C. State on Monday night.