Lexi Donarski Scores 23, Powers North Carolina Past No. 6 N.C. State, 80-70

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Lexi Donarski scored 23 points to power North Carolina to an 80-70 win over No. 6 North Carolina State on Thursday night.

The Tar Heels (18-9, 10-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) were also boosted by 13 points and 11 rebounds from Alyssa Ustby, a career-high 12 points from Alexandra Zelaya, 12 points and seven rebounds from Maria Gakdeng and 11 points from Indya Nivar.

“It’s no secret that Donarski is a great 3-point shooter and we let her hit five,” N.C. State coach Wes Moore said. “And then Zelaya, that’s what she does. ... We just didn’t get it done.”

Aziaha James led the Wolfpack (23-4, 11-4) with 24 points, while Mimi Collins added 11 points and 10 rebounds. Saniya Rivers chipped in 13 points and Madison Hayes had 11.

The Tar Heels won their third straight after a four-game skid, while the Wolfpack had their three-game winning streak snapped. It was the largest margin of victory for UNC over N.C. State since the 2018-19 season.

After trailing by seven points in the first quarter, UNC coach Courtney Banghart inserted a smaller front court of Alexandra Zelaya and Indya Nivar. The Tar Heels then closed the period on a 13-5 run to take a two-point lead, highlighted by a pair of 3-pointers from Zelaya.

“It’s my job to stay ready. I take that job seriously every day,” Zelaya said. “I let the ball fly and it went in. To go out there and just feel the momentum shift — I feel like we all felt it. And we just kept on going, just kept maximizing. I was lucky the 3s went in.”

Zelaya hit her fourth 3 of the night — a career high for the senior forward — in the third quarter. The Tar Heels pushed their lead to 14 points in the fourth quarter when Donarski swished her final 3.

Also key for UNC was the steady play of point guard Deja Kelly, who had nine points, eight assists and zero turnovers in 38 minutes.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: This was one of the most complete games the Tar Heels have played in a while. They led for nearly 30 minutes. UNC outscored N.C. State 20-15 in the second quarter, marking the first time since a Dec. 19 win over Oklahoma that the Heels scored more than their opponent in that frame. This was UNC’s first win over a ranked opponent since beating Louisville on Jan. 21.

“Any win in the ACC is a great win,” Banghart said. “This is a resilient group and I’m happy for them.”

NC State: The Wolfpack entered with one of the best defenses in the country, allowing opponents to make just 35.2% of their field goals, which is ninth-best nationally. But N.C. State couldn’t stop the Tar Heels from beyond the arc. North Carolina shot a season-best 52.4% on 3-pointers.

CHANGE COMING FOR RIVALRY

The ACC will expand to 18 teams next season by adding Stanford, Cal and SMU. With an 18-game league schedule, each program will play every other program once, and one protected rival twice, during the regular season. For UNC, that rival will be Duke, which means the Tar Heels will no longer have two regular-season meetings with the Wolfpack.

“We get to play N.C. State twice (this season) but other teams don’t. If you look at the strength of the pod that we’re in, the path to an ACC championship is really hard,” Banghart said. “I like that it’s going to be much more balanced for everybody.”

N.C. State and UNC have played each other 119 times in a series that dates to the 1974-75 season.

“It is what it is,” Moore said. “I hope we play (UNC) at home next year. How about that? Change is what’s good for the conference. They did what they needed to do. You saw what happened to the Pac-12? I think that’s what they used to call that conference. Our commissioner wanted to make sure the ACC didn’t have the same issue.”

UP NEXT

North Carolina: At No. 8 Virginia Tech on Sunday.

NC State: At Duke on Sunday.

___

Get poll alerts and updates on AP Top 25 basketball throughout the season. Sign up here.

___

AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball