DURHAM, N.C. – UNCG's women's soccer team held top-ranked North Carolina without a goal in the second half, but the Tar Heels made a pair of first-half goals stand in a 2-0 win over the Spartans at the Duke Nike Classic at Koskinen Stadium on Friday.
The Tar Heels (5-0), the consensus No. 1 team in the nation, scored twice in a 10-minute span in the opening half to deny UNCG (1-4) the upset.
"You're playing the No. 1 team in the country, there's a lot to overcome when you're playing a team like that," UNCG coach Steve Nugent said. "Some of it is soccer, some of it is physical, but I think the biggest part of it is mental. And the girls believed that they had a chance to win that game. The way that we played in the second half, we did."
North Carolina got on the board in the 35th minute, with Ranee Premji converting a give-and-go pass from Emmalie Pfankuch from 12 yards out for her third goal of the season.
Freshman Bianca Gray scored her first career goal in the 45th minute, taking passes from Premji and Crystal Dunn and banging it home to make it a two-goal spread for the Heels at the half.
"Our Achilles' heel right now, look at the box scores, it's giving up a goal in the last minute or two minutes of a half," Nugent said. "Going into the second half down 1-0, it makes a huge difference psychologically. Now, that being said, it didn't affect us. We played incredibly hard in the second half. We had good chances to score goals and defended incredibly well."
UNCG's defense definitely tightened up in the second frame, holding North Carolina to just seven shots. Defender Lauren Lover, who played just 57 total minutes in seven matches as a freshman last season, earned her first career start Friday and played all 90 minutes against the nation's top team.
The Spartans countered UNC with four shots of their own in the second half, with Kristin Player notching two of them.
Player picked up UNCG's first attempt in the 73rd minute, but her shot was high. Freshman Casey McCavitt followed with a shot in the 76th minute, forcing Tar Heel keeper Anna Sieloff's only save of the afternoon.
Player added another shot that went just wide in the 86th minute, while Casey Godwin had UNCG's last chance at breaking up the shutout in the 89th, only to see her attempt blocked.
Jaimey Etten took a corner kick for the Spartans with 1:36 remaining in the game, but UNCG was unable to get off a shot on the play.
UNCG keeper Kelsey Kearney made four saves on the day, with three of them coming in the second half. She stopped an attempt by Pfankuch in the 29th minute then denied Amber Brooks in the 53rd. She stopped shots by Rachel Wood in the 73rd and 87th minutes.
North Carolina starter Adelaide Gay didn't face a shot before giving way to Sieloff in the second half. Sieloff finished with one save as the two combined on UNC's second straight shutout.
The Tar Heels outshot UNCG 18-4 on the afternoon and had five corner kicks to the Spartans' three. UNCG did draw two corners to North Carolina's one in the second frame.
All four teams that UNCG has lost to this season currently appear in the top 25 of at least one national poll. The Spartans opened the season with a loss against unranked Virginia Tech, which has since entered the national rankings, and has lost to No. 14 Wake Forest and No. 23 Tennessee.
"I'm happy that we get to test ourselves against these teams," Nugent said. "It's important that we utilize the lessons that we've learned against a team like North Carolina and apply them to the areas that we're trying to get better in."
The Spartans conclude play at the Duke Nike Classic on Sunday at 2:30 p.m., when they face yet another ranked foe in the host Blue Devils, who are in the top 10 in all three major national polls.
No. 1 North Carolina 2, UNCG 0
Goals by period 1 2 Tot
UNCG................ 0 0 - 0
North Carolina...... 2 0 - 2
1. 34:46 NC Ranee Premji (3) (Emmalie Pfankuch)
2. 44:18 NC Bianca Gray (1) (Crystal Dunn;Ranee Premji)
- UNCG -