Deja Kelly didn’t quit. The sophomore guard for the fifth-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels never backed down from South Carolina, the No. 1 overall seed in the women’s NCAA Tournament.
Kelly drove to the basket, pulled up from mid-range, shook off defenders with her silky handles, and defended hard.
Her effort was admirable and impressive, but in the end, it alone was not enough to keep the Tar Heels’ postseason going.
Despite Kelly’s 23 points, North Carolina fell in the Sweet 16 in the Greensboro Coliseum on Friday, losing 69-61 to South Carolina in front of an announced crowd of 8,811 fans.
“I asked these guys to give me both their head and their heart all year long, and that’s what they did,” third-year UNC coach Courtney Banghart said.
“Deja is just fearless… Her poise — this is a bunch of sophomores running around, and that takes an enormous amount of poise and toughness. Deja was big all tournament.”
Kelly also had five rebounds, three assists and two steals, while Alexandra Zelaya added 10 points for the Tar Heels (25-7).
Aliyah Boston led South Carolina with 28 points and a season-high 22 rebounds.
Zia Cooke had 15 points and Destanni Henderson had 13 to push the Gamecocks (32-2) into the Elite Eight for the second straight season.
“That was a tough game. Hats off to North Carolina for playing an extremely efficient basketball game.
They never gave up no matter how big or small the lead was, and they deserved to be here, and they pushed us to the limit,” Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said.
“I thought Deja Kelly did a great job at just putting us back on our heels and scoring.”
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