By R.L. Bynum
When North Carolina’s women blew out Virginia Tech in Chapel Hill last month, the Tar Heels limited one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the ACC.
On Sunday, whenever the No. 23 Tar Heels tried to make a run, big Virginia Tech 3-pointers kept them at arm’s length in a physical battle.
UNC (19–5, 9–5 ACC) fought well after falling behind by 12 points in the fourth quarter but came up short as the Hokies (19–6, 11–3) got revenge with a 66–61 victory Sunday at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Va.
“My guys are gonna win a lot of a lot of basketball games if they’re gonna show that amount of fight,” UNC coach Courtney Banghart said. “There was a lot of adversity today, to say the least. And they didn’t point fingers outward. They just adjusted and kept fighting.”
Alyssa Ustby’s 3-pointer with 1:11 left cut UNC’s deficit to 66–61 but Deja Kelly and Ustby missed 3-point tries in the final 23 seconds, and Carolina could come no closer.
After making only four of 25 attempts from outside the arc during Carolina’s 71–46 victory on Jan. 9, the Hokies were 11 of 28 in the rematch. That earned their second consecutive win over a ranked team for the first time in program history after defeating No. 11 Georgia Tech 73–63 on Thursday to extend their win streak to four.
The Tar Heels’ defensive effort on the perimeter wasn’t that much different than in the first meeting but the Hokies made a lot of difficult shots, some at the end of shot clocks when that’s the best they could get against UNC.
“I think they did a good job adjusting to how we played them in the first game,” UNC guard Carlie Littlefield said. “We couldn’t really be as disruptive as we would have liked. But we still showed a lot of toughness and they just made tough shots. [They] maybe added a few more things, were crisper on their screen. But I think it did come down to just tough shots being made.”
Virginia Tech came into the game third in the league in 3-point shooting percentage (36%) and wouldn’t be denied in the rematch as Georgia Amoore scored 17 points and five 3-pointers and Aisha Sheppard (driving on Kennedy Todd-Williams and Eva Hodgson in the top photo) netted 14 points and four 3-pointers. Center Elizabeth Kitley added 15 points and eight rebounds.
Sheppard broke the ACC career 3-pointers record with 375, passing former Louisville star Asia Durr’s total of 374.
“Some of them were open, and some of them weren’t, and they still went in. So, this is a really tough team to beat on the road,” Banghart said. “They love playing at home. You can tell they like to shoot at home, and they’re playing really well right now. Amoore played awesome for them and was able to kind of create some separation and get into a shot.”
Kelly led four Tar Heels in double figures, scoring 10 of her 17 points in the first quarter. Ustby put up her 11th double-double of the season with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Littlefield and Eva Hodgson both scored 10.
Carolina took control early and led 21–9 after the opening quarter, but Virginia Tech flipped the momentum in the second quarter and led for the last 21 minutes of the game. For the second consecutive game, Carolina played a physical team and was left guessing much of day about how the officials would call it because that kept changing.
“It was a heavyweight battle with two really good teams,” Banghart said. “We came out and really shot the ball well and then things got a little physical and I’m not quite sure I was able to figure out what the consistency and inconsistency was. Our guys had to play through a lot of that. But you know, they made big shots when they counted and we had a tough time countering that.”
Kelly had a tough time finding her rhythm on offense in the last three quarters, and a lot of that had to do with the Hokies guarding her with a lot of physicality. That forced the Tar Heels to play in more one-on-one situations, and that limited their ball movement.
“To be honest, a lot of contact was not called throughout the game,” Banghart said. “Our guys had to play through more contact than they probably have in their careers. As a result, it’s hard to understand that. … The physicality increased and that created a dynamic that I’m not sure was actually basketball at times.”
Ustby battled through the physicality of the game to score most of her points with some gritty inside moves.
“I’ll leave out of here with a lot of bruises,” Ustby said. “I was just taking what I could get and the inside game was what I needed tonight.”
For the third consecutive game, UNC won the rebounding battle, this time 39–32, rebounding 43.9% of its misses while the Hokies only pulled down 30% of their misses.
After scoring in double figures for seven consecutive games, Todd-Williams is probably showing up more prominently in scouting reports and being defended differently. Her nine-point game Thursday ended the streak, and she was held to six Sunday, her lowest output since scoring six in the first game against the Hokies.
“She’s a little bit hesitant right now, where she wasn’t two weeks ago,” Banghart said. “But Kennedy Todd-Williams is one of our one of our best players and one of my most versatile and I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about our good players and how consistent they’re going to be throughout the course of the season.”
Kelly had more first-quarter points than Virginia Tech and UNC outscored the Hokies 11–4 in the last 6:33 of the opening quarter, capped by Kelly’s driving 3-point play.
It was the fourth consecutive game and eighth time this season that UNC has held an opponent to single-digit first-quarter points. It was the 18th time this season an opponent has failed to score double-digit points in a quarter.
“The first quarter, we definitely punched first,” Ustby said. “We’re moving the ball, getting the shots we wanted. And then, throughout the rest of the game, I think the ball kind of stuck a little bit. But that’s a credit to Virginia Tech’s defense because they did put a little more pressure and that’s just how the game goes sometimes.”
A 20–5 Hokies run to start the second quarter erased Carolina’s 12-point lead as UNC committed 10 turnovers in the period. Amoore’s second 3-pointer of the quarter gave the Hokies a 29–26 lead with 1:11 left in the first half.
“Obviously not the result we wanted, but I thought we had a lot of grit,” Littlefield said. “It’s never easy to win on the road, and they shot really well today. The ball kind of bounced their way. But, hopefully, we can get them back if we see him again in the tournament.”
Virginia Tech took a 31–28 halftime lead after the Tar Heels scored seven points in the second quarter, tied for the lowest quarter output of the season after also scoring seven in the first quarter of their loss at N.C. State.
Carolina trimmed its deficit to one on Ustby’s nice inside move with 7:28 left in the third quarter, but back-to-back 3-pointers from Amoore and Sheppard gave Virginia Tech a 52–32 lead entering the final quarter. The run became 9–0 on an Amoore 3-pointer two minutes into the final quarter.
Hodgson pulled UNC within five with a 3-pointer and a driving layup with 5:28 left. Ustby cut the deficit to four with a layup and then a driving 3-point play with 4:07 remaining, but 3-pointers from King and Sheppard shoved the lead back to 10 with 2:57 left.
Carolina made 12 of 13 free-throw attempts and is 52 of 60 in the last three games.
The Tar Heels return home for a huge 6 p.m. game Thursday against No. 3 Louisville (regional sports networks). The Cardinals (22–2, 13–1) extended their win streak to seven with a 73–47 home win Sunday over No. 18 Notre Dame.
Va. Tech 66, No. 23 UNC 61
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 (4–4, 4–4 ACC)|
|2||81–62 win, 13–0, 3–0 ACC||Home||Clemson|
|6||72–45 loss, 13–1, 3–1||Road||No. 5 N.C. State|
|9||71–46 win, 14–1, 4–1||Home||Virginia Tech|
|16||70–64 loss, 14–2, 4–2||Road||No. 18 Notre Dame|
|20||61–52 win, 15–2, 5–2||Home||Virginia|
|23||55–38 loss, 15–3, 5–3||Road||No. 11 Georgia Tech|
|27||78–62 win, 16–3, 6–3||Road||Duke|
|30||66–58 loss, 16–4, 6–4||Home||No. 5 N.C. State|
|February (3–1, 3–1 ACC)|
|3||78–59 win, 17–4, 7–4||Road||Wake Forest|
|6||85–38 win, 18–4, 8–4||Home||Miami|
|10||64–54 win, 19–4, 9–4||Home||Pittsburgh|
|13||66–61 loss, 19–5, 9–5||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||Duke|
X —Goombay Splash; Y — Big Ten/ACC Challenge
Photos courtesy of Virginia Tech Athletics