PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Even if it was being played a couple hours north of campus, it felt like a home game for No. 18 Oregon with the namesake of the tournament, and a former women’s national player of the year sitting courtside.
That made the response North Carolina coach Courtney Banghart saw from her team even more impressive.
Eva Hodgson scored 14 of her 21 points during a fourth quarter flurry of shot-making, and No. 8 North Carolina rallied on multiple occasions in the second half and topped Oregon 85-79 in the semifinals of the Phil Knight Invitational on Thursday. The Tar Heels will face No. 5 Iowa State in the championship game on Sunday.
“We didn’t come out with the sense of urgency that I think they really have to understand that their success and their ranking, warrants,” Banghart said. “And then when things didn’t go so well, they stay totally locked into what we need to make changes on.”
Part of those changes included Hodgson not hesitating when she got clear looks in the fourth quarter. Hodgson scored 10 points in a 90-second span of the fourth quarter after it looked as if the Ducks were about to pull away. Hodgson’s four-point play with 5:12 remaining gave North Carolina a 72-68 lead. Oregon pulled within 74-73, but Hodgson hit four free throws down the stretch, sandwiched around Destiny Adams’ basket, and the Tar Heels were able to hold on.
Alyssa Ustby added 19 points for North Carolina (5-0) and the Tar Heels put five players in double figures. Deja Kelly had 17 points, Anya Poole added 11 and Kennedy Todd-Williams 10.
“My coach and my teammates have been telling me the year and a half I have been here just to shoot the ball and let it fly,” Hodgson said. “So having their confidence in me, I knew towards the end of the game that we needed something to just change kind of the stride of the game.”
Te-Hina Paopao led Oregon (4-1) with 18 points, Grace VanSlooten added 17 points and 11 rebounds and Jennah Isai scored 15 points. But the Ducks will lament chances they had to put the game away, leading by 11 in the opening moments of the second half and holding a 66-58 lead with 7:34 left after starting the fourth quarter on an 11-2 run.
That’s when Hodgson got hot from the perimeter. Her consecutive 3-pointers stopped Oregon’s run and her four-point play put the Tar Heels in front for good.
“Disappointed that we lost but I’m more encouraged now than I was actually coming into the game,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said. “I didn’t quite know what to expect with this group because we’re so young and hadn’t been tested. For the most part we played a really good game did a lot of really good things.”
Knight, the founder of Nike, was courtside, sitting next to former Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu for the matchup. Also in the stands was former North Carolina men’s coach Roy Williams, who was across town for the Tar Heels’ matchup against Portland in the men’s tournament earlier Thursday.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels started the week with their highest ranking since the 2014-15 season, when the they reached as high as No. 6 in the AP Top 25. The win over Oregon was North Carolina’s 20th straight non-conference victory.
Oregon: The Ducks will lament their struggles at the free-throw line. Oregon was 6 of 14 from the line and entered the game hitting 72% from the free-throw line for the season.