CHAPEL HILL — Paris Kea and North Carolina gave coach Sylvia Hatchell the “wow moment” she asked for: an upset of top-ranked Notre Dame.
Kea — a redshirt senior who went to Page High School in Greensboro — had season highs of 30 points and 10 assists to help 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.
Stephanie Watts added 19 points for the Tar Heels, who played with confidence nearly all afternoon and stayed on the attack behind Kea’s hot hand.
UNC led by 10 early in the fourth quarter before Notre Dame ran off 12 straight points to take the lead. But instead of crumpling, the Tar Heels found a counterpunch to hold on.
Kea hit two free throws in the final 20 seconds to help keep control for the Tar Heels, who mobbed each other on the court as the horn sounded.
“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.”
It was the Tar Heels’ first win against the Fighting Irish since Notre Dame joined the ACC in the 2013-14 season, along with the program’s first win against the nation’s top-ranked team since beating Duke in a 1-against-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, considering the reigning national champion Irish (19-2, 6-1) had faced relatively little stress in league play and 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 win over Tennessee. Team spokesman Josh Bates said Young sprained her right ankle in practice Saturday.
Marina Mabrey had 20 points to lead Notre Dame, which shot 49 percent but had 20 turnovers while the defense was unable to 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 loss snapped a 198-game winning streak by No. 1 teams against unranked teams, according to ESPN. Additionally, Notre Dame had won the five meetings against UNC since joining the ACC by 25, 10, 34, 22 and 32 points.