Analysis: UNC 71, Liberty 65

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina had its ups and downs in a season in which the Tar Heels finished sixth in the ACC. We saw both the best and the worst of the No. 4 seed Tar Heels on Saturday. But the better part of them prevailed, beating No. 13 seed Liberty 71-65 at Carmichael Arena.

The Greensboro Regional first-round game could have resulted in an upset of the Tar Heels on their home court had it not been for their strong guard play.

Allisha Gray led the way with 17 points, and fellow guard Latifah Coleman had 15. North Carolina had a tough time scoring inside against the size of Liberty, which has three players 6-foot-4 or taller. North Carolina's Stephanie Mavunga scored 12 points but was just 4-of-13 from the field.

Meanwhile, 6-4 Liberty center Ashley Rininger was 8-of-15 from the field for a game-high 19 points, and she added 13 rebounds.

North Carolina likely will need a more even performance Monday to advance to the Sweet 16.

Key stat: Liberty had a hard time from behind the arc, which made it a little easier for North Carolina to compress its defense and combat the Flames' size inside. Liberty shot 3-of-18 from 3-point range, and two of those treys came late in the game.

Turning point: With North Carolina trailing 12-9 with 13 minutes, 23 seconds left in the first half, Gray hit a jumper to start a 14-0 run that gave the Tar Heels a 23-12 lead. They led 39-25 at halftime, and that helped them get through some rough spots for the remainder of the game. Liberty "won" the second half, outscoring the Tar Heels 40-32, but the cushion North Carolina gained in the opening 20 minutes was crucial.

Key player: Coleman came in averaging 6.4 points per game, but the senior had a big performance Saturday. She scored 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field and helped Carolina's defensive effort against Liberty's perimeter game. The Flames' starting guards went a combined 8-of-28 from the field (28.5 percent).

How it was won: Despite getting outrebounded 52-35 and not closing out the game strongly, the Tar Heels got enough big shots in the final part of the second half to survive this threat.

What's next: The Tar Heels host a second-round game Monday against the winner of Saturday's matchup between No. 5 seed Ohio State and No. 12 James Madison.