By R.L. Bynum
GREENSBORO — The obvious goal for No. 16 North Carolina in Friday’s quarterfinal matchup with No. 21 Virginia Tech is to make it more like their first regular-season game and less like the rematch.
The No. 4-seed Tar Heels (23–5) blew out the No. 5-seed Hokies 71–46 on Jan. 6 in Chapel Hill with a potent transition game and suffocating defense. In Blacksburg on Feb. 13, though, hot-shooting Virginia Tech (22–8) won a much-more physical game 66–61.
The teams meet at 11 a.m. Friday (regional sports networks) at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Coach Courtney Banghart’s team is built on defense and the Tar Heels’ play on that end was a big factor in the contrasting results.
“In the first game, we were so active defensively,” Banghart said. “We were really engaged on the ball, we were connected off the ball. And in the second game, we played a little bit tired.
“We were less engaged on the ball and, honestly, we had more breakdowns defensively, and then they also shot really well and so those two things are a pretty bad combination,” she said. “But, otherwise, we got good looks but didn’t convert as well in the second game either. Just two really good teams that are pretty evenly matched.”
The difference in execution on the defensive end contributed to Virginia Tech going from making only 4 of 24 3-point attempts in the first game to 11 of 28 in the rematch.
It also meant that the numerous transition buckets that the Tar Heels scored in the first game didn’t come as often in the second game.
“We ran well; we got a lot of live ball stops,” Banghart said of the first game. “So, because of that, we were able to generate our width and depth that we like in our transition game. They went to the basket more or there were more free throws in the second game, and then we also finished well. We missed countless shots from three feet and in on the road. We can’t leave that many points on the board.”
The Hokies earned a rematch with UNC by easily knocking off No. 13-seed Clemson 82–60 in Thursday’s second round behind 20 points and four 3-pointers from Aisha Sheppard. She had 14 points and four 3-pointers in Tech’s win over Carolina and Georgia Amoore had 17 points and five 3-pointers in that game.
Carolina’s half-court offense was pretty effective in both meetings, with Deja Kelly (15 in the first game, 17 in the second game), Eva Hodgson (19 and 10) and Alyssa Ustby (13 and 12) all scoring in double figures in both games.
The Tar Heels held the Hokies’ Elizabeth Kitley, the ACC Player of the Year, just below her 17.7 scoring average in both games. She had 14 points in the first game and 15 in the second for two of her seven lowest outputs in ACC play.
The day started early for Carolina’s players on Thursday. The Tar Heels had an optional practice (which the entire team attended) from 7:30 to 8 a.m. on the arena court before doing a walkthrough on the auxiliary court.
An 11 a.m. game isn’t new for Banghart, who remembers playing NCAA tournament games that started in the morning. She’s happy to get the extra rest while Virginia Tech played, but more prideful that her team earned the position.
“For me, finishing tied for third and having the only one of the top five teams that doesn’t have a COVID senior? For me, that’s just enormous pride and that kind of shows where we are,” Banghart said. “If I had my choice, I’d rather get the tiebreak and be a true double-bye team. That means you’re one of the top four teams in the league. And that says a lot, I think.”
Friday, the work continues to try to convince the NCAA tournament committee that Carolina deserves to be a sub-regional host.
First round — Wednesday’s results
Game No. 1 — No. 13 Clemson 88, No. 12 Syracuse 60
Game No. 2 — No. 10 Duke 55, No. 15 Pitt 52
Game No. 3 — No. 11 Wake Forest 61, No. 14 Virginia 53
Second Round — Thursday’s results
Game No. 4 — No. 5 Virginia Tech 82, Clemson 60
Game No. 5 — No. 9 Florida State 63, No. 8 Boston College 58
Game No. 6 — No. 7 Miami 61, Duke 55
Game No. 7 — No. 6 Georgia Tech 45, Wake Forest 40
Quarterfinals — Friday‘s schedule
(All games on regional sports networks)
Game No. 8 — No. 4 North Carolina (23–5) vs. Virginia Tech (22–8), 11 a.m.
Game No. 9 — No. 1 N.C. State (26–3) vs. Florida State (18-12), 2 p.m.
Game No. 10 — No. 2 Louisville (25–3) vs. Miami (18–11), 6 p.m.
Game No. 11 — No. 3 Notre Dame (21-7) vs. Georgia Tech (21-9), 8:30 p.m.
Semifinals — Saturday
(Both games on ACC Network)
Game No. 12 — UNC or Virginia Tech vs. N.C. State or Florida State, noon
Game No. 13 — Louisville or Miami vs. Notre Dame or Georgia Tech, 2:30 p.m.
Championship — Sunday
Game No. 14 – Championship Game, noon (ESPN)
Box score for UNC’s Jan. 9 win in Chapel Hill
Box score for Hokies’ win Feb. 13 in Blacksburg
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications