Shooting woes, turnovers follow a scheduling shuffle that leads to quick changes in travel plans

By R.L. Bynum

Winning on the road is tough enough already without that road you take changing on the fly. But that’s the 2020 curveball that the pandemic threw at North Carolina’s women’s basketball team in the last couple of days.

First, their scheduled Sunday game at Louisville got postponed because of COVID-19 issues in the Cardinals program. Then, after Duke’s virus issues forced its Sunday game at Miami to be postponed, the Tar Heels learned Friday night that they would be playing at Miami.

The Tar Heels fought back from a 13-point third-quarter deficit to make a game of it before Miami handed them their second consecutive ACC road loss, 67–63 in Coral Gables, Fla., on Monday.

Two 3-pointers 32 seconds apart by Carolina freshman point guard Deja Kelly cut Miami’s lead to 64–60 with 38 seconds left. Her three-point point play with 25 seconds left on a follow shot made it 65–63. 

Deja Kelly’s nine points in the final 1:14 of the game weren’t enough for UNC to win.

Miami held on in the end with redshirt junior Destiny Harden, who scored a game-high 20 points, and Taylor Mason each splitting a pair of free throws. In the final 15 seconds, Kelly missed a layup, Kennedy Todd-Williams missed a jumper and Stephanie Watts missed a 3-pointer.

Alyssa Ustby came off the bench to score a career-high 17 points for Carolina. Kelly scored nine of her 16 points in the last 1:14 of the game and Janelle Bailey battled foul trouble to collect 14 points and 13 rebounds for her first double-double of the season.

“This young team is going to learn very quickly because they’re getting a lot thrown at them,” said UNC coach Courtney Banghart, whose team led early 6–2. “But, yeah, it was a bizarre 36 hours. It was a bizarre 36 hours for Miami as well but they have a bunch of seniors.”

Miami also never had to leave its campus.

The ACC wanted the teams to play Sunday. After Carolina couldn’t get a plane to get the team there in time, they settled for a rare Monday afternoon contest.

“You know, it’s not like there are just chariots waiting to take us, so I give a lot of credit to North Carolina,” Banghart said “It’s expensive to get a team out here in a 36-hour window or a 24-hour window. We had no choice when we couldn’t get a plane.” 

The downfall for UNC (5–2, 0–1 ACC) was again 3-point shooting and turnovers. Kelly, who had two assists and only one turnover, was the only Tar Heel to hit from 3-point range as Carolina followed up a 2 of 18 shooting game from 3 in Thursday’s loss at Wake Forest by going 3 of 19. 

Nine of UNC’s 15 turnovers came in the first half and that helped Miami (4–1, 1–1) to take a 33–23 halftime lead. It wasn’t until Ustby’s layup with 8:05 left in the second quarter that the Tar Heels had more field goals than turnovers (10–9 at that point).

After shooting 72.2% from the free-throw line in the first six games, Carolina made only 10 of 22 attempts at the line against the Hurricanes. 

“Obviously, the turnovers, you somewhat expect in the younger guys because they’re still kind of getting used to the pace and angles of the college game,” Banghart said. “But, again, the older guys can’t turn it over the way they’re doing it or we’ve just got to play young and live with that.” 

Energy from the Tar Heels’ young players sparked a 12–4 run in the last 1:49 of the third quarter with one sophomore, Kennady Tucker, on the floor with four freshmen: Kelly, Todd-Williams, Ustby and forward Anya Poole. 

UNC’s Alyssa Ustby scores inside during another stat-stuffing day for the freshman.

“During that run we were just working together,” said Ustby, who had a stat-stuffing day with eight rebounds, three assists and four steals. “We knew that in order to score we had to use each other, so that was getting the ball inside, kicking out for 3s. Just anything we could to find the open player.”

Ustby was the catalyst for UNC down the stretch, including a terrific interior pass that led to an easy inside bucket for Poole.

“She’s competitive and she’s fearless,” Banghart said of Ustby. “The kid just likes to compete. If you wanted to play ping-pong, I’m sure she’s pretty good at that, too. I trust her. I know what I’m gonna get. I’m gonna get everything she’s got. And obviously, she can score in a lot of ways.”

Ustby, who turned the ball over twice, attributed some of the turnover issues to there being so many players new to the team this season.

“We’re just still just getting used to playing with one another,” she said. “And, you know, those turnovers will get a lot fewer as we go on and as we get more experience in this ACC play.”

If Carolina is going to do some damage in the ACC, it will have to get better contributions from graduate transfers Petra Holešínská and Watts.

After making half of her 3-point attempts in the first five games, Holešínská has missed all 10 of her 3-point tries in the first two ACC games. She was UNC’s leading scorer coming into the game but was held to five points.

Stephanie Watts has made only one of nine attempts from 3-point range in the first two ACC games and went scoreless in Monday’s loss at Miami.

Watts, who sat for more than 16 minutes midway through the game, also couldn’t find the range. After going 1 of 4 on 3-pointers at Wake Forest, she missed all five attempts Monday and finished scoreless.

The most frustrating miss, though, came out of a timeout when a play was set up for Watts to take a 3-pointer. She air-balled the shot with three seconds left.

“The team needs her,” said Banghart, who added that health-wise Watts is fine. “I just told the team the moment I’ll remember most from this game is when she was really discouraged coming off of the court, I think in tears, and you had Ally Zelaya on one end, Alyssa Ustby on the other just sort of buoying her with arms around her, bringing her to the locker room.”

Banghart said nobody was more disappointed after the game than Watts.

“We’ve just got to continue to support her and to push her and also give her confidence,” Banghart said. “She said the same thing in the locker room: ‘I have to play better 1,000%.’ It’s good for our young guys to hear that as you get older you have to play well in big games.” 

While Banghart was happy to see Kelly’s scoring in the final minutes, she said wasn’t pleased overall with her play.

“She was a part of our problem in the first half,” Banghart said. “She wasn’t able to get good shots for her teammates, and she didn’t finish her own shots that she took.”

Banghart saw positives from the loss and growth in her team.

“We started kind of similarly to the way we started at Wake,” Banghart said. “But when we had to go to our young guys, I think they played a little bit afraid and tonight they didn’t.”

Next up for the Tar Heels is an 8 p.m. Thursday home game against No. 18 Syracuse (ACC Network). The Orange (4–0, 1–0 ACC) won at Miami 66–58 last Thursday.

Miami 67, North Carolina 63

UNC’s lineup combinations

Pool photos by Kevin Ortiz

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