By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — With six ranked ACC teams, there aren’t many nights when you can turn the ball over too many times, shoot poorly, give up too many offensive rebounds and still easily win.
Virginia offered that rare night, and No. 20 North Carolina (15–2, 5–2 ACC) did all four in a 61–52 victory Thursday night at Carmichael Arena. The Cavaliers didn’t make it easy at the end, though, coming within seven points late.
It’s back to the ACC gauntlet for UNC, though, which faces ranked opponents in the next three games: at No. 16 Georgia Tech at noon Sunday (ACC Network), at No. 21 Duke at 7 p.m. Thursday (ESPN3) and at home against No. 3 N.C. State on Jan. 30.
Deja Kelly led the way with 11 of her 18 points in the first quarter and a career-high-tying four steals. Kennedy Todd-Williams scored in double figures for the second consecutive game with a career-high 15 points. Alyssa Ustby collected nine points, five rebounds, three assists and four steals while battling foul trouble.
“There’s no secret we didn’t play super, super great,” UNC coach Courtney Banghart said. “But, as I told them in there, we’re not going to let a not-sharp effort impact how good we think we can be when we focus on the right things.”
The Cavaliers (3–12, 0–5), who haven’t won since Dec. 5 partly because of five canceled or postponed games, lost their sixth consecutive game. But they led by four in the first quarter to become the third opponent this season to take a lead on UNC in Carmichael.
It didn’t last, even as Banghart played more of her bench than usual, and did it early. She used eight players in the opening quarter and all 11 got in by late in the first half. The Tar Heels, 9–0 at home, have led for 353 minutes and 32 seconds of 360 minutes in nine home games.
The not-so-good numbers were getting as many field goals (19) as turnovers and giving up a season-high 23 offensive rebounds (the previous high was 14 against Minnesota). The 19 turnovers came after committing 18 in the 70–65 Sunday loss at Notre Dame.
Banghart said the games were so different considering that the Irish played zone, so she isn’t concerned that Carolina’s ball control is an ongoing issue.
“I think we’re being a little bit lackadaisical,” Banghart said. “We tried to be precise with certain passes that we don’t need to do tonight. I think it was a little bit of just a careless effort, to be honest.”
The turnover total tied the season-high (also against Alabama State) and was the highest total against an ACC team. The 31.7% shooting was only better than the 23.1% against N.C. State and the 21.7% 3-point shooting was only better than the 16.7% against Texas Christian and 16% against Syracuse.
Todd-Williams, who committed a team-high five turnovers, said that the sloppiness can be eliminated with better decision-making.
“Everybody’s going to have turnovers, but we can limit them by just playing smart,” Todd-Williams said. “It’s just an accountability thing. But I trust this team. It’s not going to continue.”
The rebounding issues against Virginia are a particular concern with the tall Yellow Jackets ahead on Sunday.
“I think really our focus will be our box out,” Kelly said. “We gave up a lot of offensive rebounds today. So that’ll be one of our main focuses just because Georgia Tech is a really big team. They’re a really great rebounding team as well.”
Banghart told her team that they have to be happy to win when they shoot so poorly and perform so badly under the glass. Virginia outrebounded UNC 47–44 and the Heels have been outrebounded in three of the last four games.
“There’s an ebb and flow to the season and we got certainly got down to an ebb and I look forward to getting back to work with this team on Friday,” Banghart said.
She said that playing a lot of players was partly the plan for the game but just also the way the game worked out. She had a full bench again with the return from COVID-19 protocols of guard Eva Hodgson, who scored three points.
“You’ve got such a big stretch of games coming up that you can utilize your depth. We’re a little bit beat up, so we can rest our legs a little bit,” said Banghart, adding that it was not the best game from most of her starters. “That’s why you have a bench. That’s why you have a team.”
Carolina missed its first four shots before Kelly’s mid-range jumper and her fifth four-point play of the season and third in two games.
“After I made that one, all I could do was laugh,” Kelly said. “Because we were literally talking about it in the locker room before the game, like ‘what if I get another one today?’ And I was like, ‘You know what, that’s my goal.’ So, I don’t know why people keep giving me the opportunity; but I’m just going to take it.”
But Virginia hung in early when UNC had more turnovers (5) than field goals (3) in the first four minutes and led 12–8 with 3:57 left.
Kelly scored five points in an 8–0 Tar Heels run and they led 20–16 after one quarter.
UNC scored the first seven points of the second quarter, including a banked-in 3-pointer from freshman Morasha Wiggins, and led 32–20 at halftime after limiting the Cavaliers to four second-quarter points.
Carolina held an opponent to four or fewer second-quarter points for the third time this season (also Appalachian State and Washington.)
The Tar Heels shot 53.8% in the third quarter but with eight turnovers, they only expanded the lead to 48–34 entering the final quarter.
Virginia cut its deficit to 55–48 on a Taylor Valladay layup with 3:17 left and cut it back to seven on another Valladay layup with 41 seconds to go. Two Kelly free throws with 28 seconds put the game away.
Valladay led Virginia with 18 points and eight rebounds. Amandine Toi added 10 points and Kaydan Lawson pulled down 14 rebounds.
Georgia Tech (14–4, 5–2) won 65–55 on Thursday night at Syracuse.
Directors’ Cup standings
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||Home||Syracuse|
|January (3–2, 3–2 ACC)|
|2||81–62 win, 13–0, 3–0 ACC||Home||Clemson|
|6||72–45 loss, 13–1, 3–1||Road||No. 4 N.C. State|
|9||71–46 win, 14–1, 4–1||Home||Virginia Tech|
|16||70–64 loss, 14–2, 4–2||Road||No. 19 Notre Dame|
|20||61–52 win, 15–2, 5–2||Home||Virginia|
|23||Sunday, noon, ACCN||Road||No. 18 Georgia Tech|
|27||Thursday, 7, ACCNX||Road||No. 21 Duke|
|30||Sunday, TBA, ESPN or ACCN||Home||No. 4 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. 21 Duke|
X —Goombay Splash; Y — Big Ten/ACC Challenge