Editor's note: Charlie Creme, Graham Hays and Mechelle Voepel each vote to determine espnW's national player of the week, which is awarded every week of the women's college basketball season.
North Carolina came into this past week with just one ACC victory this season. The Tar Heels ended the week with a win over the No. 1 team in the county.
There have been questions about why North Carolina, which clearly has talent, has struggled as much as it has. The Tar Heels (12-9 overall, 3-4 ACC) have missed the NCAA tournament the past three seasons, and looked on track to do so again. But maybe beating Virginia Tech 81-69 on Thursday and -- the biggie -- upsetting top-ranked Notre Dame 78-73 on Sunday will be the boost North Carolina needs to spark the rest of its season.
If that's the case, it will be in large part because of redshirt senior guard Paris Kea, who is the espnW national player of the week.
She had 26 points, five rebounds and two assists in the Tar Heels' victory at Blacksburg, Virginia, on Thursday. Back home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on Sunday, the Heels were looking for their first back-to-back victories since beating UNC Greensboro and Rice on Dec. 14-18.
North Carolina had not defeated Notre Dame since the Irish joined the ACC in the 2013-14 season, and was 1-7 all-time in the series prior to Sunday.
But the Irish, as was the case in their win at Tennessee on Thursday, had a slow start and led UNC just 36-34 at halftime. The Irish rallied from down by three at half against Tennessee by outscoring the Lady Vols 24-12 in the third quarter on the way to a 77-62 victory.
But that third-quarter comeback didn't happen against North Carolina. A sprained ankle sidelined Notre Dame guard Jackie Young, who had a triple-double against Tennessee. The Irish missed Young's defense Sunday, and Kea and the Tar Heels took advantage.
They outscored Notre Dame 28-17 in the third period -- led by Kea's 19 points -- and then held on for the victory. Kea finished with season highs of 30 points and 10 assists. She was 11-of-17 from the floor, making 5 of 8 3-pointers. She also had three steals. Kea, who had averaged 17.0 PPG in her two previous career games against Notre Dame, became the fourth Division I player to record a 30-point, 10-assist game against a ranked opponent over the past 20 seasons (Washington's Kelsey Plum, now with the WNBA's Las Vegas Aces, did it most recently, on March 20, 2017).
Kea is from Greensboro, North Carolina, and started her college career at Vanderbilt in 2014-15, then sat out a transfer year the next season. She averaged 17.2 PPG as a sophomore for the Tar Heels in 2016-17, and 19.4 PPG last season, when she had four games scoring 30 points or more.
She is averaging 15.6 PPG this season for the Tar Heels, who still have a lot of work to do to make the NCAA tournament field. They have just two more ACC games against teams currently ranked, both against undefeated No. 8 NC State.
But if North Carolina can finish strong, it already has at least one signature victory. And with that performance against the Irish, Kea also helped her WNBA draft stock.
Also considered: Chennedy Carter, Texas A&M; Japreece Dean, UCLA; Megan Gustafson, Iowa; Megan Huff, Utah; Nancy Mulkey, Rice
Previous winners: Kristine Anigwe, Cal (Nov. 12) | Kierra Anthony, Louisiana Tech (Nov. 19) | Jackie Young, Notre Dame (Nov. 26) | Christyn Williams, UConn (Dec. 3) | Jenna Allen, Michigan State (Dec. 10) | Alanna Smith, Stanford (Dec. 17) | Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon (Dec. 24) | Katie Benzan, Harvard (Dec. 31) | Kalani Brown, Baylor (Jan. 7) | Cierra Dillard, Buffalo (Jan. 14) | Teaira McCowan, Mississippi State (Jan. 21)