UNC women debut in the AP poll, among national leaders in many categories

By R.L. Bynum

North Carolina’s women’s basketball team is 9–0 for the 12th time in program history and, for the first time in six years, the Tar Heels are ranked in both national polls.

After getting ranked in the coaches poll last week, UNC debuted this week in the AP Top 25 at No. 25. The Tar Heels moved up from No. 24 to No. 20 in the coaches poll.

It’s the first time that Carolina has been ranked in both polls since the 2015–16 preseason poll when it was 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 in both polls since then until this week.

“When I took this job I knew this was a program that could be nationally prominent consistently,” UNC coach Courtney Banghart told The Associated Press. “As we’re in pursuit of winning a national championship this is a step in the right direction.”

Helping find space for UNC in the poll was a loss by Oregon State (No. 23 last week but unranked after a 56–52 loss at Villanova). Carolina is one of 10 unbeaten teams in the country.

The last time that the UNC women’s team was ranked in the AP poll when the men’s team wasn’t in the Top 25 was Feb. 17, 2014. The Carolina women were No. 11 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 poll after a seven-week absence at No. 19 and the women’s team fell to No. 14 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.

Remaining at No. 2 is N.C. State (10–1), which will be the Tar Heels’ first ranked opponent on Jan. 6 when they visit Reynolds Coliseum. The Wolfpack’s only loss came 66–57 to No. 1 South Carolina (10–0) in their season opener.

Other ACC teams in the poll are No. 6 Louisville, No. 15 Duke, No. 18 Georgia Tech and No. 21 Notre Dame.

Mitchell Northam of WUNC, the lone North Carolina-based voter, had State No. 2, Duke No. 12 and UNC No. 14.

Kelly Gramlich of ACC Network, who was the only voter to put Carolina on a ballot two weeks ago, has State No. 2, Duke No. 14 and Carolina No. 21. Former N.C. State player Deb Antonelli has State No. 2, UNC No. 16 and Duke No. 17.

The Tar Heels, who have the 17th-best RPI in the country and are No. 2 in the NET rankings, set many season-highs Sunday in their 107–46 victory over UNC Asheville. They scored the most points in a game since beating New Orleans 123–41 in Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Dec. 16, 2013, and the most points in Carmichael Arena since defeating Gardner-Webb 109–44 on Nov. 12, 2011.

Carolina plays host to Jacksonville at 6 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN3) before opening ACC play at 2 p.m. Sunday at Boston College (ESPN3).

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Banghart said that her team still could get better but she likes the ball movement that is creating good shots.

“It’s a group of guys that are pretty new to their roles,” said Banghart, who lost three starters from last season’s team. “But they work hard every day. Truly, this is a really driven group and we are 74 days into our practices. They’re sharing it better. I think they’re getting more comfortable with the understanding that sharing the basketball is leading to more points for us. And we want to limit the amount of contested shots that we take.”

The group has come together well despite losing players from last season and bringing on new players this season.

“It just comes with building chemistry over time each day of practice,” sophomore wing Alyssa Ustby said. “We learn what each other likes to do. So, for example, Eva Hodgson loves to shoot the three, so I know I can find her on the 3-point line. So, that has come over just the amount of practices and games. And, as the season goes on, that should improve.”

UNC’s national numbers are eye-popping:
— Second in scoring margin (36.5 per game; first in the ACC)
— Second in field-goal percentage defense (30.8%; first in the ACC)
— Fifth in 3-point shooting percentage (41%; first in the ACC)
— Fifth in scoring offense (84.6 points per game; first in the ACC)
— Fifth in scoring defense (48.3; third in the ACC)
— Tied for eighth in defensive rebounds (31.6 per game; fourth in ACC)
— 11th in turnover margin (+7.33 per game; leads the ACC)
— 14th in field goal percentage (47.2%; second in the ACC)
— 20th in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.27; second in the ACC).

Carlie Littlefield scored 17 points with a career-high-tying four 3-pointers in Sunday’s win over UNC Asheville.

Even though the Tar Heels are fifth in the country scoring offense, their scoring is distributed such that no player is in the top 50 in the country in scoring.

Sophomore guard Deja Kelly leads four players averaging double-figure points with 16.7 per game, which is fourth in the ACC. Ustby, at 16.1, is fifth in the league in scoring.

Ustby is tied for 15th in the country with five double-doubles, is second in the ACC in rebounding at 10.2 per game and third in the ACC in field-goal percentage at 53.9%. Kelly is fifth in the ACC in free-throw percentage at 80% and Ustby is third in the ACC in field-goal percentage

Graduate guard Carlie Littlefield is fourth in the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.4 and 11th in the league in assists at 3.4.

AP Top 25

Others receiving votes: Oklahoma 63, Colorado 63, Florida Gulf Coast 52, DePaul 30, Nebraska 27, Oregon 13, Washington State 8, Oregon State 3, UCLA 2, West Virginia 1

UNC season statistics

DateScore, record/
day, time, TV
LocationOpponent
November (6–0)
992–47 win, 1–0HomeN.C. A&T
1489–33 win, 2–0RoadCharlotte
1789–44 win, 3–0HomeAppalachian State
2179–46 win, 4–0RoadTCU
2672–59 win, 5–0Bimini, BahamasX — VCU
2758–37 win, 6–0Bimini, BahamasX — Washington
December (3–0)
182–76 win, 7–0RoadY — Minnesota
593–47 win, 8–0HomeJames Madison
12107–46 win, 9–0HomeUNC Asheville
15CanceledHomeJacksonville
19Sunday, noon, ACC NetworkRoadBoston College
21Tuesday, 1, ACCNXHomeAlabama State
30Thursday, 4, ACCNXHomeSyracuse
January
2Sunday, 6, ACCNHomeClemson
6Thursday, 8, ACCNRoadNo. 2 N.C. State
9Sunday, 6, ACCNHomeVirginia Tech
16Sunday, 1, RSNRoadNo. 21 Notre Dame
20Thursday, 6, ACCNXHomeVirginia
23Sunday, noon, ACCNRoadNo. 18 Georgia Tech
27Thursday, 7, ACCNXRoadNo. 15 Duke
30Sunday, TBA, ESPN or ACCNHomeNo. 2 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 ACCNHomeNo. 15 Duke
March
2–
6
ACC TournamentGreensboro
ACCNX — ACC Network Extra (ESPN3); 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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