By R.L. Bynum
Undefeated North Carolina moved up five spots to No. 19 in the latest AP Top 25 women’s poll as the team keeps piling up impressive victories.
The Tar Heels (13–0, 3–0 ACC), one of three remaining unbeaten teams in the country along with No. 4 Arizona (10–0) and Colorado (11–0), won two ACC home games last week, beating Syracuse 79–43 on Thursday and Clemson 81–62 on Sunday.
UNC moved up thanks to its two victories, as well as Texas A&M’s 75–66 loss to LSU that dropped the Aggies from No. 23 to No. 25 and Notre Dame’s loss at Duke that dropped the Irish from No. 17 to No. 20.
The only team to move up more spots than Carolina was LSU, under first-year coach Kim Mulkey. LSU jumped from No. 19 to No. 13 after its win over Texas A&M, in addition to beating Samford 83–47 and Georgia (which dropped from No. 13 to No. 15) 68–62.
Third-year coach Courtney Banghart’s team moved up from No. 18 to No. 15 in the coaches poll, which came out Tuesday. The Tar Heels are 13–0 for the seventh time in program history and off to the best start since the 2010–11 team won its first 14 games. UNC has won its first three league games for the first time since 2012–13.
The success is no surprise to her.
“I’m not that surprised,” Banghart said. “The most surprising thing is probably the level of competitiveness that the length of a season like this requires is really unthinkable. They don’t get to have an off night with how they approach the challenge. And they just don’t; they’re locked in. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing at what time. They’re going, ‘OK, I got you.’ And that’s how they practice. And, so, we’re not like clicking our heels together and talking about winning. We really don’t. We just work and we prepare to win and then we play to win.”
This is the fourth consecutive week that the UNC women’s team is ranked when the men’s team is unranked. It’s the first time that’s happened since it occurred seven consecutive weeks from Jan. 6 to Feb. 17, 2014.
No. 2 Duke was the only ACC team to receive votes in the AP Top 25 men’s poll this week, the first time only one league team has received votes in the last 40 years. To say the least, women’s basketball is much stronger than in the ACC than it is for men’s basketball this season.
Duke (10–2, 1-1), which lost 77–55 at unranked Virginia Tech (11–3, 3–0) but rebounded to beat Notre Dame (11–3, 2–1) 72–70, moved from No. 15 to No. 17.
The other ranked ACC teams are No. 3 Louisville (12–1, 2–0) and No. 16 Georgia Tech (10–3, 1–1). The Cardinals won on the road Sunday against the Yellow Jackets 50–48.
Next up is the biggest test of the season for UNC’s women against their first ranked opponent with an 8 p.m. game at No. 5 N.C. State (12–2, 3–0) on Thursday (ACC Network). The Wolfpack, which leads the ACC and is second in the country in 3-point-shooting percentage at 41.9%, also is coming off a win over Clemson after beating the Tigers last Thursday 79–52.
No. 19 North Carolina (13–0, 3–0 ACC) at No. 5 N.C. State (12–2, 3–0)
8 p.m. Thursday, ACC Network
Mitchell Northam of WUNC, the only North Carolina-based voter in the AP poll, has State No. 4, Duke No. 16 and UNC No. 17. TV broadcaster Debbie Antonelli, a former N.C. State player, has State No. 4, Carolina No. 12 and Duke No. 21.
Ranking the Tar Heels the highest at No. 13 is Danny Davis of the Austin American-Statesman.
Leaving UNC off their ballots were Andraya Carter of SEC Network, James Kratch of The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J., and Rebecca Lobo of ESPN.
A big part of the reason for the Tar Heels’ success has been their play on defense. Banghart says that has come with intensity, togetherness and accountability.
“Our staff does a pretty thorough job trying to prepare for how that team is going to try to attack you,” Banghart. “I think what sometimes gets lost is how much these kids have to pay attention to what we want them to do. And their level of competitiveness shows and how they are accountable to what we want them to do.”
Carolina leads the country in scoring margin at 33.4 points, easily better than the next-best of 28.1 by No. 9 Texas. The Tar Heels lead the ACC and are sixth in the country in scoring at 83.2 points per game and are third in the league and ninth in the country in scoring defense at 49.8 points per game.
UNC leads the ACC in rebounding margin (13.5, sixth in the country), defensive rebounds per game (31.1, 10th in the country) and turnover margin (8.42, sixth in the country). Sophomore wing Alyssa Ustby is third in the league in rebounding and tied for 37th in the country with 9.6 per game. Center Anya Poole is eighth in the league at 7.3.
Sophomore guard Deja Kelly leads the league in free-throw percentage (83.3%) and is third in the ACC in scoring at 17.5 points per game. Ustby is ninth in scoring at 14.1.
Ustby is tied for the ACC lead with Virginia Tech’s Elizabeth Kitley and tied for 16th in the country with six double-doubles. Ustby is fifth in the league in field-goal percentage at 50.7%.
AP Top 25
Others receiving votes: Colorado 53, Missouri 53, Florida Gulf Coast 46, Kansas State 27, Ohio State 24, DePaul 19, Missouri State 10, Virginia Tech 6, Nebraska 5. (Point values in parentheses indicate the number of first-place votes.)
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 (6–0, 2–0 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||79–43 win, 12–0, 2–0 ACC||Home||Syracuse|
|January (1–0, 1–0 ACC)|
|2||81–62 win, 13–0, 3–0 ACC||Home||Clemson|
|6||Thursday, 8, ACCN||Road||No. 5 N.C. State|
|9||Sunday, 6, ACCN||Home||Virginia Tech|
|16||Sunday, 1, RSN||Road||No. 20 Notre Dame|
|20||Thursday, 6, ACCNX||Home||Virginia|
|23||Sunday, noon, ACCN||Road||No. 16 Georgia Tech|
|27||Thursday, 7, ACCNX||Road||No. 17 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. 3 Louisville|
|20||Sunday, noon, RSN||Road||Florida State|
|24||Thursday, 7, ACCNX||Road||Virginia|
|27||Sunday, TBA, ESPN2 or ACCN||Home||No. 17 Duke|
X —Goombay Splash; Y — Big Ten/ACC Challenge
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications