Kelly, Holešínská and others impressive in UNC debuts as Tar Heels roll

By R.L. Bynum

CHAPEL HILL — Petra Holešínská arrived at Carolina with a reputation as a lethal outside shooter and quickly showed why that was on target.

The graduate transfer from Illinois swished her first attempt from 3-point range and made her second shot lofted from a couple of feet behind the arc in the game’s first 2.5 minutes. She went on to score 14 points with 4 of 6 shooting from 3-point range as North Carolina rolled to a 90–61 opening-game victory over Radford on Wednesday afternoon in Carmichael Arena.

Freshman point guard Deja Kelly (in the top photo) ran the show well, attacking on offense and doing so effectively with 19 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and only one turnover.

“I was trying to just make some reads, see what was coming within what we were running within transition,” Kelly said. “I think just trying to find my shot, just trying not to force anything, just trying to go with the flow and I think I was able to do that today. And, obviously, with me attacking it opens it up, it opens the floor up for a lot of other people like Petra.” 

Last December, Holešínská made only one of two 3-point attempts on that same floor — for her only points — as her Illini lost by 25 points to Carolina. 

This was different. That Illinois team went 11–19 and didn’t have nearly the talent of this UNC team. 

With these Tar Heels (1–0), she has preseason All-ACC pick Janelle Bailey at center and a group of talented freshmen. Among the most impressive first-year players were guards Kelly, Kennedy Todd-Williams and Alyssa Ustby and forward Anya Poole. 

Petra Holešínská showed off her shooting and passing skills in UNC’s easy victory Friday over Radford.

Holešínská didn’t have fellow graduate transfer Stephanie Watts or Kennady Tucker, both day-to-day with injuries. But there were plenty of reasons the victory came easily.

“That kid has to make 3s, at least three a game,” second-year UNC coach Courtney Banghart said. “She’s old enough to do it, she’ll have enough chances to do it. She really has to stretch the defense, especially without Watts. You know, that’s an important part of our offense, who was sitting on the bench today.

“She’s an experienced kid,” Banghart said of Holešínská. “She’s super-competitive and she’s been waiting. She got to Carolina probably in May, she’s just been dying to play basketball games. And, finally, she does what she does and she just has to keep doing that.”

Bailey, who collected 10 points and 6 rebounds in 12 minutes, was happy to see Holešínská hit those first two 3s since it helps open things up inside.

“That makes me feel good,” said Bailey, noting that the team has multiple threats. “Everybody’s ready to catch, look at the basket and see what they have, so it’s a blessing. Just to have people who are in attack mode all the time and willing to be aggressive and get to the basket or Petra shooting.”

Nearly half of Carolina’s points (48) came inside and 28 were second-chance point thanks to a 59–34 rebounding advantage. UNC got 33 points off the bench, seven more than the Tar Heels’ season-high for last season.

“I felt like offensively we got going early really to push the ball, and I feel like we just stayed the course,” Bailey said. “We know that there’s been progress on our offense and defense and we’re going to continue to work at that.”

Banghart was just glad to be able to play a game.

“I gotta be patient with this group,” she said. “I know that’s a young group but they’ll get better and better if they stay the course. So, I’m glad you guys got a chance to see what I’ve been watching for the last 60 days.”

Holešínská, Bailey, Kelly and Todd-Williams started along with Malu Tshitenge. UNC played nine players while jumping out to a 28–12 first-quarter lead, and played 10 by the time the Tar Heels rolled up a 46–29 halftime lead.

“I thought that was a good first game to kind of get my feet wet. We’re a pretty young team,” Kelly said. “And I thought we adjusted pretty well. That was our first real game. We haven’t had any scrimmages or anything like that. So, just having that be our first collegiate game, I think we did pretty well.”

Kelly showed poise with her ability to be aggressive on offense while only turning the ball over once.

“It was really emphasized to me these past few months that we’ve been practicing that I can’t have a lot of turnovers and the ball’s gonna be in my hands a lot,” Kelly said. “So, I need to be able to take care of it and be able to get us into our stuff and be able to just handle the ball and get us going and transition. I feel really comfortable with the ball in my hands.”

Ustby showed a lot of moves and court savvy in collecting 13 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists.

The benches were set up as four rows of five chairs so that players could maintain a social distance.

The 5-11 Todd-Williams (12 points and 9 rebounds) and 6-2 Poole (10 and 9) both nearly had double-doubles. Todd-Williams also collected four assists and made a nice twisting move with a backhanded off-balance scoop shot at one point. 

“She’s a good basketball player; she’s a local kid,” Banghart said of Todd-Williams from Jacksonville, N.C. “She tore her ACL in her junior year and so her stock plummeted a little bit, but I’ve been watching that kid play for a lot of years. That’s what you’re gonna get. 

“She is the Scottie Pippen of college basketball on the women’s side and Scottie Pippen made a living by being good in a lot of things but maybe not great at any one thing,” Banghart said. “And that’s what she is. She does so many things for us.”

UNC had four freshmen score in double figures since at least 2001.

Radford scored 11 consecutive third-quarter points, nine in transition, to trim Carolina’s lead to 55–45 as the Tar Heels went nearly five minutes without a field goal and missed four layups. A 6-0 UNC run pushed the margin to 16. 

The Tar Heels led 67–47 heading into the final quarter and coasted from there, leading by as many as 32 points in the last minute of the game.

“We just literally stopped defending,” Banghart said of that third-quarter stretch. “We didn’t get in the gaps well, and then they ran simple ball screen and away balls and we left the arc open.”

Most of UNC’s players knelt during the playing of the national anthem Saturday.

Although Banghart plans to mix up here defenses a lot, she played a good bit of zone.

“We’re pretty long in the zone,” she said. “We’ve got certain guys that can be really long in that zone. We also have guys that can be really small so ISOs are a problem.”

The atmosphere with only a few fans, who were all in the upper arena, was strangely different from the usual atmosphere. The only spectators were family members of players and staff. When the Tar Heels ran out onto the court for warmups, “Here Comes Carolina” played as is the tradition. But it was a recorded version and not from the pep band.

There was piped-in crowd noise, but it sounded the same regardless if there was an impressive play or if a free throw was being attempted.

Most of the team knelt during the playing of the national anthem.

UNC plays host to UNCG on Saturday and High Point on Sunday, with both games starting at 1 p.m. Both games will be season openers for the Tar Heels’ opponents.

The Tar Heels are 3–0 all-time against UNCG, winning the last meeting on Dec. 14, 2018, in Chapel Hill 83–62. UNC beat High Point 103–71 in the only previous meeting on Nov. 21, 2013.

North Carolina 90, Radford 61

Top photo and Holešínská photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications


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