By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — Against an opponent that doesn’t figure to give North Carolina’s women much of a challenge, you might think it would be tough to muster much intensity as they shake off the exam break rust.
That wasn’t the case in UNC’s 107–46 Sunday win at Carmichael Arena against UNC Asheville (5–4). There was no rust with the Tar Heels’ perimeter shooting in a game they led by a season-high 66 points in the final quarter. You could see the intensity in the faces of the Tar Heels, and that meant a long afternoon for the Bulldogs.
It is the first time Carolina, No. 24 in the coaches poll, has scored at least 100 points since beating Elon 100–69 on Nov. 6, 2018, and the most points since blowing out New Orleans 123–41 in Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Dec. 16, 2013. It was the most points in Carmichael since the Tar Heels beat Gardner-Webb 109–44 on Nov. 12, 2011.
Carolina is 9–0 for the first time under third-year coach Courtney Banghart and the 12th time in program history and still hasn’t trailed through four home games.
According to masseyratings.com, Carolina had a 100% chance of beating UNCA and it gives the Heels the same chance of beating Jacksonville on Wednesday. When UNC turns in a maximum effort in that situation, it makes for an impressive victory.
“I think it’s maybe just built-up energy from being in exams, all the studying and things like that,” sophomore guard Deja Kelly said. “So, I think just built-up energy that we’re finally ready to let out, and we were all excited to finally play with this long week behind us.”
Kelly and sophomore wing Alyssa Ustby led five Tar Heels scoring in double figures with 19 points.
“We’ve had a week off from games, but we’ve still been practicing just as hard, focusing on our schoolwork,” Ustby said. “And it really just comes down to our personal desire to want to perform well. And adding up all those personal desires and those motors and the drive to succeed in these games by large margins, we need every single person on our roster to be dialed in. And we were today.”
To Banghart, it’s all about maintaining a standard regardless of the opponent.
“In a season of our length, you’re going to play through holidays, you’re going to play through vacations, you’re going to play through exams,” said Banghart, whose best start as a coach was the 2014–15 season when Princeton won its first 31 games. “You just can’t worry about what else is happening. When you’re inside the lines it’s about the standard that we want to set so we can build the right habits, and they did that for sure.”
It helps that the 3-point attempts just kept falling. After making 10 of 15 attempts against James Madison, the Heels hit a season-high 11 on 20 attempts against UNCA. The Tar Heels shot as season-best 58.8% from the floor, getting a season-high 58 points inside.
“We shoot a lot,” Banghart said. “When I first got here, I made our administration put more hoops in the gym. We shoot a lot and that leads to, hopefully, the reps that they need, and then we work hard to get good looks.”
With 3-pointers from four players, it makes Carolina much tougher to defend.
“That definitely makes us more dangerous because now they see that we can shoot it,” Kelly said. “We can also get to the rim and get to our mid-range shot as well. So that just really opens up the floor for us really well.”
Carlie Littlefield tied her career-high with four 3-pointers, which she did three times in her three seasons at Princeton. She scored 17 and pulled down six rebounds. Center Anya Poole collected 16 points and nine rebounds.
Ustby was +63 with 14 rebounds for her fifth double-double of the season. Her drive and consistency this season have been amazing.
“She wants to be great every day, not just on game day,” Banghart said. “And when your best players want to be great, even when no one else is watching, it pays off. And you know what she is for this team is not just our engine; she’s consistently on the quest for greatness. And she’s gotten better and better and better throughout her journey.”
Ustby doesn’t pay attention to her impressive numbers as they keep piling up.
“I just like to go out and play and just contribute any way I can offensively, defensively, getting blocks, steals, assists, just anything I can contribute to the game and stats come as they come to me. But I just like to work hard,” said Ustby, who had a career-high three blocks.
The defense was suffocating again, forcing 19 turnovers that produced 18 fast-break points. How did they do it?
“First off, how we’re guarding the ball means we’re not playing in scrambles a lot, so we’re in good, sound position,” Banghart said. “So, it starts at the point of the ball, and then on the rotations and gaps and whatnot. Rebounding is about positioning and pursuit and we have both.”
This is the first time Carolina has held seven opponents to fewer than 50 points since the 2012–13 team needed an entire season to do it.
UNC Asheville’s fifth-year senior Nadiria Evans was coming off a 31-point game against East Tennessee State and is the nation’s No. 19 scorer at 20.0 per game but was held to a team-high 12 on Sunday.
Many numbers stood out in the game, but Banghart singled out the 50 rebounds that helped UNC score 24 second-chance points, and season-high 24 assists. Ustby, Littlefield and Kennedy Todd-Williams, who scored 13 with a career-high three 3-pointers, each had four assists. Carolina also committed a season-low eight turnovers.
Carolina scored the game’s first 10 points, with 3-pointers from Littlefield and Todd-Williams. The Tar Heels led 27–10 after one quarter, holding an opponent to 10 or fewer first-quarter points for the seventh time this season.
UNC scored the last 14 points of the first half to lead 53–17 at halftime with as many 3-pointers (6) as the Bulldogs had field goals, making 6 of 11 3-point tries. It was the fifth time this season that a Carolina opponent has been held to fewer than 23 first-half points.
The Tar Heels took an 84–26 into the final quarter. It wasn’t until a Mallory Bruce bucket with 7:47 left in the game that the Bulldogs’ point total (28) was greater than UNC’s total in any of the first three quarters.
UNCA cut a 66-point lead to 54 with a 16–2 fourth-quarter run while no Tar Heels starters were in the game for 5½ minutes. Banghart put her starters back in but it had nothing to do with her team closing in on 100 points.
“You’ve got to make your minutes count,” Banghart said. “And I thought, defensively, we were missing so many assignments. And we were just allowing them to score at a pace we weren’t comfortable with. So, once I thought it was getting out of hand, I had to put our defensive guys back in.”
The Tar Heels get two days off before facing Jacksonville (7–2) at 6 p.m. Wednesday. The Dolphins, who play at USC Upstate on Monday night, and UNC both won at Minnesota. Jacksonville opened its season Nov. 9 with a 69–66 win and Carolina won 82–76 on Dec. 1. The Dolphins’ two losses were at Florida State on Nov. 18 (64–39) and at home Nov. 27 to Presbyterian (62–54).
Carolina 107, UNC Asheville 46
UNC season statistics
day, time, TV
|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||107–46 win, 9–0||Home||UNC Asheville|
|19||Sunday, noon, ACC Network||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. 2 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. 2 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|
X —Goombay Splash; Y — Big Ten/ACC Challenge
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications