By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — In Carolina’s final non-conference tune-up Tuesday, the unbeaten No. 25 Tar Heels did what you would expect against an overmatched opponent.
You can only learn so much from blowing out a now 2–7 Alabama State team 83–47 in a game that was sloppy at times. But the Tar Heels, as expected, are 11–0 for the eighth time in program history and one of nine unbeaten teams in the country headed as into an eight-day holiday break.
Reserves logically got a lot of playing time, and fans in Carmichael Arena got more of a look at freshman forward Destiny Adams’ talent. They learned that there is a lot to like.
They saw a lot of aggressive play on defense and under the boards as she swiped three steals and collected two assists and six rebounds in 13 minutes, all season-highs, while scoring eight points. At one point, she ripped the ball out of the hands of an opponent but wasn’t credited with a steal. She was also tough around the basket.
The potential is obvious but Coach Courtney Banghart says that Adams, principally a post player at this point, is still very much a work in progress.
“What she gives you is what you can trust,” Banghart said. “She’ll give you everything she has. She’s going to be fearless. And she’s going to be coachable by her teammates. So, what they tell her on the floor, she tries to do. What we tell her to do, she tries to do. And that’s the kind of kid you can trust and it’s fun to watch her game skill day-to-day-to-day because obviously her heart and her activity makes a difference.”
Ranked 20th in the country in the freshman class, she left Manchester Township High School in New Jersey as its all-time leading scorer, averaging 30.1 points as a senior. She is part of UNC’s No. 2 class in the country.
“She’s so active, on both ends — on the glass, on offense, on defense,” Banghart said. “You can count on her that her activity will create winning plays for us. What she has to continue to work on is her skill development. Be better with her feet, better with her finishes. Be ready to be better from the free-throw line. There’s a bit of skill work that we can continue to work on with her on.”
On an afternoon that lacked flow for much of the game since Carolina went to the line a season-high 43 times, making only 28, Adams connected on eight of her 10 free-throw attempts.
“I was a lot more comfortable than my previous game,” Adams said. “I feel like I just went in there and I contributed a lot within my defense. I just worked hard and got a lot of steals. And that’s what we needed at the time.”
With Alyssa Ustby in foul trouble and then fouling out in the final quarter of UNC’s 76-73 victory Sunday at Boston College, Adams got some valuable experience in a high-leverage situation.
“Being thrown into the end of the game when we were down — as a freshman and I haven’t had much playing time before that — I think it really helped build my confidence, knowing that I can contribute to the team even though I am so young and inexperienced at the college level,” Adams said. “And, so, that did help for today’s game.”
Sophomore Deja Kelly, Carolina’s leading scorer, led the Tar Heels again with all 16 of her points in the first half. Eva Hodgson added 14 and Kennedy Todd-Williams pitched in 11. Anya Poole had another strong effort with 10 points and a career-high five blocks.
Poole says that assistant coach Adrian Walters keeps telling her to take Adams under her wing and they routinely battle against each other in practice.
“She takes what we give her and she doesn’t take it as criticism. She’s taking it as us just trying to help her,” said Poole who added that Adams will get down on herself if she misses a layup attempt, for example. “She works on things and she gets in the gym and she works with Coach Wall. She asks questions, and we’re just building up her game and just working and we know that she’s making strides to be better. It’s what we really need because she’s a very scrappy player.”
After the last two games, Adams has no reason to be down on herself.
“When I move to new teams, it takes a lot for me to feel comfortable and be confident and play my game,” Adams said. “After this game and after the Boston College game, it really helped me be comfortable and now I know what I can do.”
Poole called Adams scrappy but it’s also a good word to describe Poole of late. She was good from the outset as she scored on two strong drives to the basket in the game’s first minute and continues to show improved play from her freshman season last year.
With center Janelle Bailey graduated, Banghart used Poole as a bit of a recruiting tool when she was trying to convince guard Carlie Littlefield to transfer to UNC. Littlefield wanted to know who the Tar Heels had at center.
Banghart told Littlefield to trust her on this.
“We told her that Anya is good and Anya is going to continue to get better and she’s a key piece to what we’re doing,” Banghart said. “Anya knew that, so she spent the offseason getting more skilled and getting tougher and getting in much better shape. There are times where we still want a little bit more from her with her inconsistency. But, boy, she’s been a huge reason why we’re as good as we are.”
Some of Poole’s success in recent games has come against post players her size or shorter and bigger challenges are ahead, including going up against Elissa Cunane and No. 5 N.C. State on Jan. 6, three games from now.
“I feel like all of us have prepared for it,” Poole said. “Yeah, we might be undersized. But we’ll take a challenge. Cunane is a very good player but you can never doubt yourself and I would never doubt me or my team.”
Carolina, which had a height advantage at every position, started the game with a 21–3 run in the first 7:03, with Kelly scoring 10 points and a pair of 3-pointers. The Tar Heels scored 17 consecutive points during one stretch of the opening quarter.
It was the third time this season that Carolina has held an opponent to five or fewer first-quarter points.
It took Poole less than a minute to score four points but it took Alabama State 7:25 to top that with its fifth point. The Hornets came out buzzing in the second quarter, though, with a 13–9 run to trim what had been a 22-point lead to 17. UNC outscored Alabama State 15–2 in the rest of the quarter and led 50–20 at halftime.
“That was a little bit of a sloppy game,” Banghart said. “There are a lot of factors probably that led to that. But, as I just told them in there, they’re going home for the holiday 11–0. And there’s not a lot of teams that can say they’re 11–0 at this point in the season, playing a variety of opportunities, playing in a variety of places at a variety of times against a variety of styles. And, so, there’s a whole lot to be proud of.”
Carolina also had a bit of a lull early in the second half when it scored six points in the first 5.5 minutes, but took a 64–32 lead into the final quarter and pushed the lead to 43 points in the fourth quarter.
The Tar Heels get eight days off for the Christmas break before returning to Carmichael on Thursday, Dec. 30 at 4 p.m. to face Syracuse (ACC Network).
The Orange (8–4, 1–1 ACC) play its final non-conference game Wednesday at home against Siena. The trip to Chapel Hill will be the first road league game for Syracuse, which lost to Notre Dame 82–56 in its ACC opener Nov. 14 and beat Clemson 86–46 on Dec. 11.
UNC and Syracuse both played Minnesota. The Orange lost 70–63 in the Bahamas on Nov. 21 and the Heels won 82–76 in Minneapolis on Dec. 1.
No. 25 UNC 83, Ala. A&M 47
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|
|December (5–0, 1–0 ACC)|
|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||76–63 win, 10–0, 1–0 ACC||Road||Boston College|
|21||83–47 win, 11–0||Home||Alabama State|
|30||Thursday, 4, ACC Network||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||No. 21 Notre Dame|
|20||Thursday, 6, ACCNX||Home||Virginia|
|23||Sunday, noon, ACCN||Road||No. 18 Georgia Tech|
|27||Thursday, 7, ACCNX||Road||No. 15 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. 6 Louisville|
|20||Sunday, noon, RSN||Road||Florida State|
|24||Thursday, 7, ACCNX||Road||Virginia|
|27||Sunday, TBA, ESPN2 or ACCN||Home||No. 15 Duke|
X —Goombay Splash; Y — Big Ten/ACC Challenge
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications