By R.L. Bynum
North Carolina’s women are not only off to an 8–0 start, but they have also dominated nearly every opponent. National observers are finally taking notice as the Tar Heels are ranked for the first time in six years, debuting at No. 24 in the USA Today coaches poll.
It’s just another step in the progression for the program in Coach Courtney Banghart’s third season in Chapel Hill. Under Banghart during the 2011–12 season, Princeton became the first Ivy League women’s team to earn a national ranking.
In the first NET rankings of the season, a metric that the NCAA uses when picking tournament field and in seeding, the Tar Heels are No. 2, behind only South Carolina. N.C. State is No. 3 and Notre Dame is No. 12.
It’s the first time in eight seasons that the Carolina women’s team has been ranked when the men’s team was unranked.
The only women’s AP poll voters who had the Heels on their ballots were ACC Network’s Kelly Gramlich (No. 20), WUNC’s Mitchell Northam (No. 16) and Mark Story (No. 25) of the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader. Gramlich was the only voter who had UNC on their ballot the week before.
Carolina’s women’s program was last ranked in the preseason polls in the 2015–16 season when the Tar Heels were No. 22 in the AP poll and No. 20 in the coaches poll.
The Tar Heels fell out of both polls the next week after losing their opener at home to Gardner-Webb 66–65, and hadn’t been ranked since then until this week.
The last time that the UNC women’s team was ranked when the men’s team wasn’t was February 2014. The Carolina women were No. 11 in the AP poll on Feb. 17 after winning at No. 10 N.C. State 89–82 for their third consecutive victory.
The following week, the men’s team was back in the AP poll after a seven-week absence at No. 19 and the women’s team fell to No. 14 in the AP poll after a 50–47 home loss to Virginia Tech.
That season, the women went 27–10, losing to No. 6 Stanford in a regional final. The men finished 24–10, losing to Iowa State in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Louisville’s Jeff Waltz is the ACC representative voting in the coaches poll.
Sophomore guard Deja Kelly leads UNC in scoring at 16.4 points per game, with sophomore wing Alyssa Ustby at 15.8 and graduate transfer guard Eva Hodgson at 10.8.
On Banghart’s radio show this week, she said that a decision on whether to redshirt Kayla McPherson will be made soon. A five-star player in high school, the freshman is working through a knee injury.
“She came in a little bit banged up and she hasn’t been cleared to go five-on-five yet,” Banghart said on the show. “You’re at that point where we’ve missed so much of the season. You know, the kid is so special. I don’t want to share her. I want to have her all year. We have to make a decision very soon whether or not we’re going to redshirt and just start her athletic clock next fall or are we going to kind of come back after the holiday and have it be full go. It’s a decision that we’re live-time making.”
The UNC women have outscored opponents 316–153 in the first halves of games and forced all eight opponents to commit double-digit turnovers.
The Tar Heels have held opponents to four or fewer first-half field goals four times, held six opponents under 10 first-quarter points and held four to fewer than 23 first-half points.
Carolina’s streak of outrebounding opponents is up to seven games, the longest such streak since doing in in 10 consecutive games last season.
UNC has held opponents to under 50 points six times.
There was some scheduling news Wednesday, with the ACC moving the starting time for the Tar Heels’ Dec. 30 home game against Syracuse from 6 p.m. to 4 p.m., creating challenges for fans who hoped to attend that game and the Duke’s Mayo Bowl earlier that day.
USA Today Coaches poll
Others receiving votes: Florida Gulf Coast 59; Gonzaga 54; Duke 50; Georgia Tech 39; Colorado 32; Central Florida 20; Florida State 18; Oklahoma 14; Virginia Tech 13; Washington St. 9; West Virginia 6; Nebraska 6; Kansas State 6; Louisiana State 5; Long Beach St. 3; Coastal Carolina 2; Princeton 1; Missouri St. 1.
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||93–47 win, 8–0||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, 4, 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