Tar Heels show rust from 3-week layoff in home loss to Miami

UNC’s women have their worst shooting game of the season and most turnovers

By R.L. Bynum

CHAPEL HILL — It was easy to see, from the offensive sloppiness to the shooting struggles, that North Carolina hadn’t played in 21 days. Against a Miami team that had played three times since the Tar Heels’ last game, the holiday rust made it difficult for them to get much going. 

Miami (6–4, 3–4 ACC) was crisper most of the game and shot 54.2% in the second half to finish a season sweep of North Carolina with a 69–59 win Sunday at Carmichael Arena.

The Tar Heels (7–3, 2–3), who made only one of 21 3-point attempts in the second half, trailed by 15 with 3:11 left but couldn’t trim the deficit lower than nine.

“Clearly it’s hard to take the time off and then have to get right back in,” UNC coach Courtney Banghart said. “I’m trying to lead by example and not keep them focused on [the fact] that we haven’t played in a while. It’s a disadvantage for sure but I like where we are. My job is to get this team better, and I’m just gonna keep doing that.”

At Princeton, Banghart’s team annually was off 21 days for exams, so a long break wasn’t new to her. Not so for her players. It was the second-longest break in-season in program history, behind only the 1975–76 season when UNC played its opener Dec. 6 and didn’t play again until Jan. 9.

The planned break for the holidays kept getting longer when road games against Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville got postponed. Like any team in the country, Carolina is dealing with day-to-day uncertainty.

UNC coach Courtney Banghart liked her team’s ball movement and shot selection Sunday but it was one of those afternoons when the Tar Heels couldn’t make enough shots.

“If we didn’t like the uncertainty, then we should choose not to play,” Banghart said. “And this is not a team or a coaching staff that has any desire to stop playing. We’ll take the uncertainty, versus not. 

“It’s obviously quite disruptive,” she said. “Part of what’s disruptive is you try to deal with their load. So, you want them to have a certain load certain days before the game or the day before the game. And when that gets thrown off, you have a Tuesday game or your game gets canceled.”

The one-sided loss was a stunner for the Tar Heels, whose previous two losses had come by a total of seven points. They turned the ball over a season-high 18 times (the previous high was 16 in the win over Charlotte) and shot season-low 31.6% (the previous low was 34.8% in the loss at Wake Forest).

“When we watch that tape back I think there are a lot of things were going to really like,” Banghart said. “We’re moving the ball better, we’re sharing it better, we’re playing outside-in better. But we were a little bit rusty with our shots and kind of in all facets of the game. But I like who we are, and I like where we are.”

Banghart liked her team’s shot selection. As another coach on campus likes to say, the game looks a lot better when the ball goes in the basket.

“These are open shots and if you don’t want to make open shots you go down and defend,” Banghart said. “And then if you don’t make enough shots you lose, you get back the next day and you keep getting better. So I think we’ve gotten better. We just didn’t make any shots.”

For UNC, which lost at Miami 67–63 on Dec. 14, the only player who had consistent offensive success was senior center Janelle Bailey. She produced her 40th career double-double in her 100th career game with 18 points and 15 rebounds and made two 3-pointers (after hitting only one in the first nine games). But she also had trouble converting inside at times.

“I felt like we got off to a good start, we knew it was gonna be a tough game. This team is really physical,” Bailey said. “It felt like sometimes we were physical. Sometimes we weren’t. I felt like it came down to the fact that we, as a team, didn’t make shots. And I feel like we still stayed together and wanted to execute. We didn’t execute; we just didn’t make shots.”

Bailey said it was clear to her that the Hurricanes are playing much better than when she first saw them in South Florida. Their physical game made the going tough inside, particularly with UNC struggling to make outside shots. She wasn’t about to use the long break as an excuse.

“I felt like we were more eager to play somebody else other than ourselves,” Bailey said, dismissing the suggestion that UNC was rusty. “And we know we get up and down and practice. I felt like we were ready.”

Alyssa Ustby said that the Tar Heels were ready to play despite the long layoff.

Alyssa Ustby, who had six points and six rebounds, also wasn’t going to blame the long break and the pattern of thinking that UNC would have a game and then having it postponed.

“They’re a little frustrating but it’s nothing that we can handle and especially because of how close we are. We get through it together,” Ustby said. “[The break] definitely could have played a role, but we’re good enough. So, no matter how long the break is, we’re ready to play.” 

Point guard Deja Kelly dealt with foul trouble most of the game after picking up two fouls in the first quarter, and she fouled out in the final minute with an ACC-season-low six points. Petra Holešínská, who returned to the starting lineup, was the only other Tar Heel to score in double figures with 10 points.

Kelsey Marshall scored 19 and Endia Banks 14 to pace Miami.

Carolina was able to navigate the Hurricanes’ full-court press when they attacked it with passes. But the Tar Heels rarely could break through on transition and struggled to find a rhythm in their half-court offense.

After attempting nine free throws in the loss at Wake Forest, Banghart was highly critical of that output. UNC had attempted at least 22 in every game since then until attempting only 10 Sunday against Miami, which played zone the entire game.

“You’ve got to find your gaps, and the gaps were in the high post and the perimeter,” Banghart said of attacking the Hurricanes’ zone. “And if we were taking challenged 3s or rushed 3s like we did against Wake, those kids would have been out. But the ball was moving, the ball touched four guys most possessions. Today we’re in rhythm with shots, we just didn’t make them.”

UNC went on a 4:38 scoring drought early, mostly when Kelly was on the bench with the two fouls. But a 10–2 UNC run gave the Tar Heels a 16–9 lead after one quarter, sparked by 3-pointers from Kennedy Todd-Williams and Bailey. 

UNC led by as many as nine in the first half but Miami tied it at 30 by halftime on a 3-pointer by Marshall with 21 seconds left. 

Carolina shot 27.3% from the floor in the middle two quarters and then Miami surged in the final quarter. Miami took control early with a 9–2 run in the third quarter and took a 54-43 lead into the final quarter on a 3-pointer and layup by Destiny Harden. A Marshall 3-pointer shoved the Hurricanes’ lead to 61–46 with 6:51 left. 

It didn’t get a lot better in the fourth quarter for UNC, which went scoreless for more than 2½ minutes.   

The Tar Heels play at home again Thursday at 6 p.m. against Virginia Tech (ACC Network Extra), then aren’t scheduled to play again until their Jan. 21 visit to Virginia.

Miami 69, North Carolina 59

Photos courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications

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