Wake Forest defeats Heels for the third consecutive time as they go 2 of 18 on 3s

By R.L. Bynum

Perimeter shooting was one of North Carolina’s key offensive weapons that helped the Tar Heels win their first five games.

After sinking 39 3-pointers coming into their ACC opener at Wake Forest, the Tar Heels couldn’t find the range for most of the night and didn’t hit until it was too late, falling 57–54 Thursday night in Winston-Salem.

“The tougher team won that one,” said UNC coach Courtney Banghart, whose team has lost three consecutive games to the Demon Deacons.

When Stephanie Watts’ 3-pointer from the right wing cut Wake Forest’s lead to 56–54 with seven seconds left, it was only the Tar Heels’ second of the game. After Wake Forest star Ivana Raca split a pair of free throws with six seconds left, Ariel Young’s potential game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer went off the front of the rim.

After shooting 40.2% on 3-pointers coming into the game, UNC (5–1, 0–1 ACC) made only two of 18 attempts against Wake Forest (4–1, 1–0). 

“To shoot 2 of 18 is unacceptable,” Banghart said. “Not that you made two but that you shot 18.  They were giving us that shot and we were like, ‘great, let’s take it.’ ”

Anya Poole scored 12 points and Janelle Bailey 11 for UNC, but the Tar Heels didn’t get the inside opportunities they needed given the shooting woes.

“I think the low post was open,” Banghart said. “We just were unwilling to throw it inside. And then when we threw it inside, we didn’t finish at the percentage we need to finish at. We’re going to take less of them and go to the free-throw line more if we’re going to shoot like that.”

The statistics that bugged Banghart the most were the 18 3-point attempts, the 15 turnovers and the fact that the Tar Heels only attempted nine free throws. The latter was a byproduct of settling for jumpers and not getting it inside enough. 

“I know it’s an inexperienced group,” Banghart said. “So, this is an experience that we need and we’ll make a change to make sure that we’re always the tougher team.”

The bright spots offensively were Poole, who pulled down 11 rebounds and put up her first career double-double, and Petra Holešínská, who had 12 points and three assists. Other than those two and Bailey, the Heels struggled to score.

“I honestly thought our team was tougher offensively,” Banghart said. “We’re built sort of to be really diverse. We’ve got length. We’ve got speed. We’ve got bigs. We’ve got shot-making. I think we’ve got some pieces offensively that can be really good and I thought mostly — with probably the exception of Anya — everyone was soft. I don’t talk like that about my team, you know me, but every single one of our players was soft offensively. And if you’re going to be soft in this league, you’re going to lose and that’s what happened.”

The young team again depended on the veterans. But Watts was 2 of 9 and finished with five points.

“You have to lean on Petra and Watts and Janelle, and they weren’t enough tonight,” Banghart said. “They weren’t good leaders. They didn’t play with toughness. They just didn’t do what we need them to do. And so we required our freshmen to do a lot. We have to get them to buy into that what the freshmen give us is extra.”

Holešínská showed again she’s much more than just a perimeter shooter. She missed all six of her 3-point attempts but drove to the basket for four field goals in the second half trying to help the team in another way.

“Obviously, the shots weren’t following, so I tried to put it on the floor a little bit more,” said Holešínská, who had made 22 of 44 3-point attempts in the first five games. “I feel like I should have done that earlier. They kind of stopped us with their zone but that doesn’t mean that you can’t just drive to the paint.”

Banghart knew all about Raca because she scored 27 points in the Deacons’ 83–73 ACC tournament victory over UNC last season. Raca came into the game averaging 20.3 points per game. 

For one half, North Carolina shut her down and, if not for 11 of 33 first-half shooting, the Tar Heels would have led by more than 25–19 at halftime. 

Raca finally broke through on a layup with 8:35 left in the third quarter during a 6–0 run that cut UNC’s lead to 27–25 and led to a UNC timeout with 7:43 remaining. Wake took its first lead since the game’s first four minutes on two Gina Conti free throws with 3:27 left in the third quarter. Raca finally got going on offense, scoring all 14 of her points in the second half, including seven in the last three minutes.

Conti led Wake Forest, which visits UNC on Dec. 20, with 16 points and three assists.

“Our defensive principles were way better in the first half,” Poole said. “Then, in the second we kind of slacked off because we were like, ‘oh, OK, she’s not scoring,’ so now we’re worried about everybody else but we can’t do that. We weren’t holding ourselves accountable on defense and we were worried about everybody else.”

Defense was the one area that pleased Banghart. At least in the first half.

“We wanted to make her job difficult,” she said of Raca. “We wanted to stay attached. We have a lot of respect for her. I think she’s a pro. She’s an important kid. And we guarded her to our scout. In the second half, we wanted things to be easy. I told them it’s hard to lock into a defensive game plan for 40 minutes. It’s hard to win in the ACC, and we locked in almost. Not enough in the second half, and so we let her get her pick and pops, we let her get to the free throw line. We just weren’t the tougher team mentally or physically.”

Carolina visits Miami at 2 p.m. Monday (ACC Network) after its Sunday visit to No. 2-ranked Louisville on Sunday was postponed because of COVID-19 issues in the Louisville program. The Tar Heels then play at home against Syracuse at 8 p.m. Thursday (ACC Network).

Wake Forest 57, North Carolina 54

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications

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