By R.L. Bynum
North Carolina’s women are two-for-two on sophomore homecoming games this season.
After winning at TCU last month in Deja Kelly’s native Texas, the Tar Heels knocked off Minnesota 82–76 on Wednesday night in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge in a homecoming game for wing Alyssa Ustby.
The Tar Heels are 7–0 for the 16th time in program history.
“Well, it’s always great to get a big road against another very good team,” said Coach Courtney Banghart, whose team made 21 of 28 free-throw attempts. “It was one of those games that we didn’t finish well. We didn’t shoot well. Every time we got a lead, they kind of bounced back and gave us some good fight. So it’s just a really gritty effort.”
From the beginning, it was obvious that Ustby was pumped up to be playing close to home.
Ustby, who grew up 85 miles away from the Minnesota campus in Rochester, collected 19 points and 11 rebounds in front of numerous family and friends at Williams Arena for her fourth double-double of the season. Her career at Lourdes High School ended at that arena when a 2020 state semifinal game was canceled because of the pandemic.
Ustby is Lourdes’ all-time leader in scoring (2,560 points) and rebounds (1,287) and holds the single-game scoring record with 45 points.
She got lots of help with six of the seven players who played scoring in double figures. Kelly collected 15 points and four assists and Carlie Littlefield battled foul trouble but finished with 14 points.
Monster halves are evidently the standard for homecoming games. Ustby scored 15 in the first half at Minnesota and Kelly had 15 in the second half at TCU.
Center Anya Poole gave the Tar Heels points they needed down the stretch, scoring all of her 11 points in the second half, and pulling down a career-high 16 rebounds. Poole collected a career-high three blocks for the third time this season and notched her second consecutive three-assist game.
“Enormous game for Anya; she played great,” Banghart said. “I think Anya was just really locked in. She was physical. She was quick. She was confident with her offensive moves.”
Eva Hodgson and Kennedy Todd-Williams both scored 11 points, with Hodgson adding there assists and Todd-Williams pulling down four rebounds.
Ustby scored the first bucket of the game on a coast-to-coast driving layup and set the tone for Carolina against Minnesota (6–4) for the Tar Heels’ third true road victory of the season.
After a 17-all first quarter, UNC took control in the second quarter with a 10–0 run, going up 39–27 on an Ustby jumper with 1:34 left in the first half. The Heels, who led 39–29 at halftime, needed only seven attempts to get their three first-half 3-pointers but the Gophers needed 19 to get their three.
“We’ve got a lot of weapons and I think they take great pride in being able to help the team,” Banghart said. “I still think we can play better. We can finish better. We can play better. We can do all of that better. When you can win not finishing well on offense on the road, you’re a pretty good team.”
Littlefield picked up her fourth foul and Kelly picked up her third foul midway through the third quarter. A 3-pointer from Minnesota’s Gadiva Hubbard shortly afterward trimmed UNC’s lead to 46–43 with 5:21 left in the third.
Minnesota earned a brief lead in the third quarter when the Gophers made four of five 3-point attempts. But UNC took a 58–55 edge into the final quarter on Kelly’s buzzer-beating shot from beyond half-court. A Todd-Williams 3 shoved the lead back to 10 at 67–57 with 7:17 left.
Alanna Micheaux’s layup trimmed the Gophers’ deficit to 67–65 with 4:43 left. But Poole responded with a 3-point play, and her bucket with 3:14 left made it 72–66 and the Heels held on to win.
Micheaux came off the bench to score 23 for the Gophers, who got 17 from Deja Winters, 14 from Hubbard and 11 from Kadaitou Sissoki.
The Tar Heels return home on Sunday to face James Madison at 2 p.m. in their first home game since Nov. 17. The Dukes (3–3) have wins over Virginia (84–69), Hampton (78–60) and N.C. Central (77–54) and losses to No. 8 Maryland (81–45), Liberty (66–61 in overtime) and Buffalo (62–45) heading into a Thursday home game against George Washington.
UNC 82, Minnesota 76
UNC season statistics
|Date||Score, record/day, time TV||Location||Opponent|
|9||92–47 win, 1–0||Home||N.C. A&T|
|14||89–33 win, 2–0||Road||Charlotte|
|17||89–44 win, 3–0||Home||Appalachian State|
|21||79–46 win, 4–0||Road||TCU|
|26||72–59 win, 5–0||Bimini, Bahamas||X — VCU|
|27||58–37 win, 6–0||Bimini, Bahamas||X — Washington|
|1||82–76 win, 7–0||Road||Y — Minnesota|
|5||Sunday, 2, ACCNX||Home||James Madison|
|12||Sunday, 2, ACCNX||Home||UNC Asheville|
|15||Wednesday, 6, ACCNX||Home||Jacksonville|
|19||Sunday, 2, ACCNX||Road||Boston College|
|21||Tuesday, 1, ACCNX||Home||Alabama State|
|30||Thursday, 6, ACCNX||Home||Syracuse|
|2||Sunday, 6, ACCN||Home||Clemson|
|6||Thursday, 8, ACCN||Road||No. 5 N.C. State|
|9||Sunday, 6, ACCN||Home||No. 24 Virginia Tech|
|16||Sunday, 1, RSN||Road||Notre Dame|
|20||Thursday, 6, ACCNX||Home||Virginia|
|23||Sunday, noon, ACCN||Road||Georgia Tech|
|27||Thursday, 7, ACCNX||Road||Duke|
|30||Sunday, TBA, ESPN or ACCN||Home||No. 5 N.C. State|
|3||Thursday, 8, RSN||Road||Wake Forest|
|6||Sunday, noon, ACCN||Home||Miami|
|10||Thursday, 6, ACCNX||Home||Pittsburgh|
|13||Sunday, 1, ACCNX||Road||Virginia Tech|
|17||Thursday, 6, RSN||Home||No. 10 Louisville|
|20||Sunday, noon, RSN||Road||No. 17 Florida State|
|24||Thursday, 7, ACCNX||Road||Virginia|
|27||Sunday, TBA, ESPN2 or ACCN||Home||Duke|
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications