UNC women turn up the defense, win title to easily move to 6–0

By R.L. Bynum

North Carolina didn’t shoot well while getting two victories this weekend in Bimini, Bahamas. But with top-level defense, the Tar Heels had no trouble coming home with a pair of wins.

Transfer guard Eva Hodgson came off the bench to score a season-high 15 points and Deja Kelly added 11 as the Tar Heels rolled to a 58–37 victory Saturday over Washington (2–3) in the final game of the Goombay Splash to win the event championship at the tiny Gateway Christian Academy gym in Bimini, Bahamas.

UNC is 6–0 for the 19th time in program history and second time in three seasons under Coach Courtney Banghart. Two of those wins were over Power 5 conference opponents, and the Tar Heels held both to 46 points or fewer.

Only one opponent has scored more than 47 points and the Tar Heels’ average margin of victory is 35.5 points.

Defense, led by the efforts of Kennedy Todd-Williams, was too much for the Huskies, who fell behind by 29 by midway through the fourth quarter, committed 18 turnovers, shot 28% and had their offense disrupted most of the afternoon. Seven Tar Heels had steals.

Todd-Williams finished with nine points, nine rebounds, three assists and two blocks.

“It was a great defensive effort against a rhythm team,” said Banghart, who dealt with the same unpredictable officiating crew that worked Friday’s 72–59 victory over Virginia Commonwealth. “Our number one key was hand engagement. We knew that they were going to call inconsistently. So, we weren’t quite sure what they were going to do with our feet. So, we just say we’re going to be aggressive with our hands on the ball. And we needed it. We didn’t shoot well all weekend.”

Carolina shot 31.3% from the floor, made only three of 12 3-point attempts and just 13 of 22 free-throw attempts. The Tar Heels dominated the boards, though, outrebounding the Huskies 58–37 and rebounding 40.6% of their misses.

UNC showed that it can win against contrasting opponents. Against Virginia Commonwealth’s guard-oriented, high-octane offense Friday, Banghart went small. Washington had size, creating different challenges.

“We had to be more disruptive at the point of the ball,” Banghart said of the Washington game. “So, we had to win in two different ways and in neither game did we really shoot that well. And, so, as we say, defense travels.”

The Tar Heels made only one of their first nine shots and fell behind 5–2. But UNC took control with a 14–2 run with Alyssa Ustby scoring six of her nine points. Carolina led 18–9 after one quarter and still hasn’t allowed double-digit points to an opponent this season in the opening quarter.

“There was a point in the game where I looked at them and told them that this comes down to trust,” Banghart said. “We weren’t trusting each other, I didn’t think enough. Meaning taking the first shot as opposed to working for a great one and being prepared to move the ball better. And, so, they showed a lot of trust in a really unique environment, which was good for us.”

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Center Anya Poole scored six of her eight points as the Tar Heels opened the second quarter with a 14–2 run, including 11 consecutive points, to take a 32–13 halftime lead. It’s the third time this season an opponent has scored 13 or fewer first-half points. Washington shot 15.3% in the first half.

“I like this team has stayed humble but hungry,” Banghart said. “I think those are two qualities that, if they can stay in those lanes, this could be a really great year for them.”

Washington took advantage of Carolina going scoreless in the first 6:05 of the second half, missing its first 11 shots, to trim its deficit to 32–21. But the Tar Heels scored the last 11 points of the third quarter, paced by five from Hodgson, to take a 46–23 lead into the final quarter.

“She’s been a great addition to us,” Banghart said of Hodgson. “She’s exactly what we needed and more. Really happy for her. All the kid cares about is winning, and so good things come with two kids like that.”

After an 8–2 Carolina run to start the final quarter, Washington made it look closer by outscoring UNC 12–4 in the final five minutes.

Banghart gave the reserves more playing time in this game and nine of 11 players scored.

Deja Kelly, left, Goombay Splash All-Star team and Alyssa Ustby was named event MVP.

Kelly made the event’s All-Star team and Ustby was named MVP.

“They were just they were just a steady presence,” Banghart said. “It was very clear that when we needed a basket or we needed a defensive stop or rebounder. We just needed a calming feature. Both of them kind of brought that. So, I thought they were what they were well-selected.”

Guard Alexis Griggsby paced Washington with eight points and two of its three 3-pointers.

UNC goes from the warmth of the Bahamas to the cold of Minnesota on Wednesday night at 9 with a road game against the Gophers (Big Ten Network) in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. That will be a homecoming for Ustby, whose hometown of Rochester is 85 miles away from Minnesota’s campus.

Minnesota is 5–3 against a tough schedule that has included an 88–58 loss to No. 3 Connecticut, a 70–63 victory over Syracuse and an 88–69 loss to Oklahoma, all in the Bahamas. The Gophers play host to Texas-San Antonio on Sunday afternoon.

UNC 58, Washington 37

DateScore, record/day, time, TVLocationOpponent
November
992–47 win, 1–0HomeN.C. A&T
1489–33 win, 2–0RoadCharlotte
1789–44 win, 3–0HomeAppalachian State
2179–46, 4–0RoadTCU
2672–59, 5–0Bimini, BahamasX — VCU
2758–37, 6–0Bimini, BahamasX — Washington
December
1X-Wednesday, 9, BTNRoadY — Minnesota
5Sunday, 2, ACCNXHomeJames Madison
12Sunday, 2, ACCNXHomeUNC Asheville
15Wednesday, 6, ACCNXHomeJacksonville
19Sunday, 2, ACCNXRoadBoston College
21Tuesday, 1, ACCNXHomeAlabama State
30Thursday, 6, ACCNXHomeSyracuse
January
2Sunday, 6, ACCNHomeClemson
6Thursday, 8, ACCNRoadNo. 5 N.C. State
9Sunday, 6, ACCNHomeNo. 24 Virginia Tech
16Sunday, 1, RSNRoadNotre Dame
20Thursday, 6, ACCNXHomeVirginia
23Sunday, noon, ACCNRoadGeorgia Tech
27Thursday, 7, ACCNXRoadDuke
30Sunday, TBA, ESPN or ACCNHomeNo. 5 N.C. State
February
3Thursday, 8, RSNRoadWake Forest
6Sunday, noon, ACCNHomeMiami
10Thursday, 6, ACCNXHomePittsburgh
13Sunday, 1, ACCNXRoadVirginia Tech
17Thursday, 6, RSNHomeNo. 10 Louisville
20Sunday, noon, RSNRoadNo. 17 Florida State
24Thursday, 7, ACCNXRoadVirginia
27Sunday, TBA, ESPN2 or ACCNHomeDuke
March
2–
6
ACC TournamentGreensboro
ACCNX — ACC Network Extra (ESPN3); BTN — Big Ten Network; ACCN — ACC Network; RSN — regional sports networks;
X —Goombay Splash; Y — Big Ten/ACC Challenge

Photos courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications

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