By R.L. Bynum

CHAPEL HILL — The poor shooting and the search for the right combinations coming out of the extended holiday break continued as North Carolina’s women lost consecutive games for the second time this season.

Virginia Tech snapped a four-game losing streak with a 66–54 victory over the Tar Heels at Carmichael Arena on Thursday night. 

Playing against a man-to-man defense for the first time in a month, Carolina (7–4, 2–4 ACC) had a hard time scoring around the basket, shooting 24% on 2-point attempts. The Tar Heels had the opposite problem in Sunday’s loss at Miami, shooting 17% from 3-point range against the Hurricanes’ zone.

“There’s gonna be some rust to that,” UNC coach Courtney Banghart said of adjusting to the rhythm and the spacing the Hokies’ man-to-man demanded. “I knew it would be a little bit messy to start. I was just hopeful that we would get in a groove. And I think because of how they’ve been shooting, it just tightens them up a little bit. The ball’s easier to move when you’re making shots and that that obviously didn’t happen.”

Perimeter defense was a big issue again for the Tar Heels, who have lost five of their last six matchups with the Hokies and three in a row. 

Virginia Tech (7–4, 2–4), which has three of the top 3-point-shooters in the country, sank 11 3-pointers, and opponents have hit 35 in the last three games. UNC’s Petra Holešínská, who scored 10 points, was 3 of 7 from 3-point range but the rest of the team was 3 of 11 after the Tar Heels combined to make only 11 3s in the previous two games.

Another issue was one Carolina rarely faces: Rebounding. UNC rebounded only 21.2% of its misses while getting outrebounded by the Hokies 50–35. Virginia Tech snagged 34.2% of its misses. It was the first time UNC has been outrebounded all season. The Tar Heels worst previous rebounding game was when it only outrebounded Wake Forest 41–38 in the loss in Winston-Salem.

Center Elizabeth Kitley scored 18 points to lead Virginia Tech, which got 15 each from Aisha Sheppard, who made three 3-pointers, and Cayla King, who hit five. But Banghart credited Hokies guard Georgia Amoore, who had a game-high seven assists, with facilitating their offense while also scoring 12 points and making a pair of 3-pointers.

“We didn’t guard [Amoore] very well and, as a result, she was able to be a real floor facilitator,” Banghart said. “That’s sort of what we don’t have right now is someone who can facilitate, not only get other people good shots but get the right shots.”

The Tar Heels never could seem to get into a rhythm on offense. That put more pressure on the defense, which wasn’t able to produce many transition chances.

“I just think offensively we struggled a little bit,” said freshman point guard Deja Kelly, who led UNC with 15 points and three assists. “So that hurt us, and then we just gave up some, some late 3s.”

UNC’s 35 rebounds were a season-low and the 54 points matched a season-low.

The anticipated matchup was the battle of 6-4 centers between UNC’s Janelle Bailey and Kitley. Bailey got the better of it in the first half, but Kitley drew Bailey’s second and third fouls in the third quarter when she scored 12 of her points.

“We held Kitley to four in the first half and then she scored 14 in the second half because we got a little bit lazy with our double game plan,” Banghart said.

Bailey, who collected 11 points and five rebounds, sat for 4½ minutes after picking up that third foul before re-entering the game with 4:20 left and UNC trailing 56–48.

In addition to Bailey’s foul trouble Malu Tshitenge also finished with four fouls. Banghart dismissed any suggestion that foul trouble was a huge factor in the loss.

“Unfortunately, no one’s playing well enough to be really dangerous,” Banghart said. “If you have a guy who’s playing really well, you don’t want to let them get in foul trouble because  you can’t play without them. There weren’t a lot of guys out there that we couldn’t live without today, unfortunately.”

Three chances to cut the deficit to six failed before Kelly’s two free throws did that. But a King 3-pointer pushed it back to 59–50 with 2:13 left and the Tar Heels never got closer than seven after that.

Kennedy Todd-Williams scored eight of her nine points to lead a first-half run.

Kennedy Todd-Williams fueled a 7–0 UNC run midway through the first half with two 3-pointers, a 2-point field goal, a steal and an assist as UNC went up 22–15 with 7:51 left in the first half. 

The Hokies took a 27–24 halftime lead by responding with a 12–2 run as UNC went scoreless in the last 4:18 of the first half. It was the second time in three games that the Tar Heels trailed at halftime, with the other game tied.

By the time UNC finally scored again on a Stephanie Watts layup with 6:47 left in the third quarter, the Tar Heels had gone scoreless for 7:31, the Hokies’ run was 18–2 and Tech led 33–26.  

Shamarla King’s 3-pointer capped a 10–0 run to give the Hokies a 52–36 lead with a minute left in the third quarter.  

Stephanie Watts again struggled with her shot on Thursday in a loss to Virginia Tech.

The frustrations continued for Watts, who started and scored two points. Watts is 6 of 43 from the floor in ACC play and has missed her last 20 3-point attempts, including two on Thursday.

Barring any schedule adjustments, Carolina doesn’t play again until a noon game Tuesday at Syracuse. UNC was scheduled to visit Virginia on Thursday, Jan. 21 but the Cavaliers opted out of the rest of the season Thursday. Originally, the Tar Heels would have played host Sunday to Duke, which opted out of its season after four games.

Virginia Tech 66, North Carolina 54

Photos courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications

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