By R.L. Bynum
GREENSBORO — Kids can lighten up even the most frustrating days and Coach Courtney Banghart’s three children soothed her and the team after No. 16 Carolina’s unexpected early exit from the ACC Tournament.
With one seven-year-old twin son, Eli, on her lap, the other, Tucker, on Alyssa Ustby’s lap and Banghart’s six-year-old daughter Gray on Deja Kelly’s lap, the coach and players talked in the postgame press conference about how Friday’s quarterfinal game with No. 21 Virginia Tech went awry in overtime for an 87–80 quarterfinals loss.
It was a day of sacrifices for them, too, considering they skipped pajama day at their school to be at the Greensboro Coliseum.
“I want to give my guys thanks for coming,” Banghart said to her children as the press conference ended. “I know you guys are the biggest fans of these Tar Heels, so thanks for sharing your mom so much.”
After No. 4-seed Carolina came up with big plays down the stretch to force overtime, short-handed No. 5-seed Virginia Tech made one big free throw after another and the Tar Heels didn’t have enough answers.
“I think these guys know that they’re doing a lot right,” Banghart said of her team. “I told them, ‘I don’t want to walk into that locker room again and say that you got beat by yourself. And I thought we beat ourselves a bit today.’ So, we’re going to learn from it and make sure whoever beats us beats us.”
The Tar Heels (23-6) will wait nine days for Selection Sunday to see where the NCAA Tournament selection committee places them, but being a sub-regional host is a lot less likely after Friday’s loss.
UNC’s Eva Hodgson forced overtime with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer coming off of a Kennedy Todd-Williams screen. Ustby’s 3-pointer gave the Tar Heels a brief one-point lead in overtime but Tech took control with a 9–0 run and UNC never came closer than the final margin after that.
The Hokies (23–8), already without one starter in Cayla King (sprained right ankle), lost ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley midway through the second quarter to an apparent shoulder injury. Georgia Amoore and Aisha Sheppard each had 22 points to overcome playing without Kitley. Hitting 13 of 15 free-throw attempts in overtime helped as well.
“We felt like we had our reads and how we were defending certain actions, and then when she goes out — although she’s a premier player for them — that changed a lot of how we were going to defend on certain quadrants of the floor. So we had to change on the fly,” said Banghart, who is 0–3 in ACC Tournament play.
Kelly, who hit several big shots toward the end of regulation, and Ustby led four Tar Heels in double figures with 18 points, with Anya Poole pitching in 14 and Todd-Williams 11.
“We kind of went on a little stretch where we didn’t have much scoring, so I had told myself that it was time to take over,” said Kelly, who scored 14 second-half points. “And that’s when I started getting to my mid-range [jumper], which is what I am comfortable with, what I do best.”
Much like in Virginia Tech’s win in Blacksburg, the Hokies were able to get more open shots and knocked down 11 of 29 attempts on the day.
“I did feel like we were late to our defensive coverages all game,” Banghart said. “That was very consistent.”
Kelly’s two jumpers and a free throw put UNC up four with 2:03 left in regulation. After Sheppard’s 3-pointer cut it to one, Carlie Littlefield’s short jumper from the right wing pushed UNC’s lead back to three with 50 seconds left. Sheppard hit three free throws with 36.6 seconds left.
“As I told our guys, I play chess, you play hoop,” Banghart, who drew up the play in which Ustby got the ball just to the right of the lane and kicked it out to Hodgson for the game-tying 3 after Amoore’s play. “We were able to get a good look, even knock it down; it gave us a chance to kind of stay alive.”
Hodgson’s shot triggered the sort of celebration you usually see for a game-winner, but there still was work to do.
“We were excited that we had another chance in overtime, but I kept trying to remind my team in the huddle that the score is zero–zero now, and that we just had to play like it was a new game and give everything we had in those last five minutes,” Kelly said.
It was the job of leaders such as Kelly and Ustby to get the team to look ahead.
“I remember looking at Deja and we were both like, ‘The game is not over, and we were just trying to kind of gather that momentum and take it into the overtime with us rather than losing our focus,” she said.
Little went well for the Tar Heels in overtime.
“It was a lot of stop and go because of the foul calls, so I don’t think it allowed us to get into a rhythm offensively,” Kelly said. “But, defensively, our coverages were not good, especially on Sheppard and Amoore. They literally were able to do whatever they wanted.”
Ustby probably played the best half of her career in scoring 13 points before halftime. But she got whistled for a couple of offensive fouls in the second half and battled foul trouble before fouling out with 1:32 left in overtime after collecting seven rebounds and four assists.
Former Duke player Shane Battier probably was nodding somewhere in approval over some of those flop-eliciting fouls against Ustby.
“I think that I had a pretty dominant performance in the low post in the first half, and their defensive strategic game plan was to draw charges or, in some cases, flop,” Ustby said. “And that’s something that I have to adjust to, as well, so that kind of changed my projection of how I was going to go offensively.”
The foul trouble took away a bit of Ustby’s aggressiveness down the stretch as she got off only four second-half shots.
“We’ve got to figure out what the rules are in our game that if a kid falls, it can’t always be a foul,” Banghart said. “I know the men have addressed it with the non-flop rule and I know we’ve talked about, as a business, what rule do we want changed the most. And I know coaches feel pretty strongly about that one.”
Carolina scored four points before Virginia Tech even got a shot off as Poole scored four of UNC’s first six points. After the Hokies tied it at 8, UNC scored the next nine points, then led 21–15 after one quarter, assisting on five of nine field goals.
Todd-Williams produced a couple of dazzling moves in the opening quarter, with a twisting one-on-one move to the basket and impressive bucket off of a Hodgson pass.
Kitley, who scored six of the Hokies’ first eight points, came out with 6:18 left in the first half holding her shoulder after taking a spill and never returned.
After a Sheppard 3-pointer trimmed UNC’s lead to one, the Tar Heels scored the next eight points to start a 13–6 run and they led 37–31 at halftime.
Virginia Tech tied it at 43 with a 10–0 run. After Poole’s bucket, Kayana Traylor’s 3-pointer gave the Hokies their first lead of the game. Tech led by five before Kelly’s last-second 3-pointer cut its lead to 50–48 heading into the final quarter.
Virginia Tech 87, UNC 80, OT
First round — Wednesday’s results
No. 13 Clemson 88, No. 12 Syracuse 60
No. 10 Duke 55, No. 15 Pittsburgh 52
No. 11 Wake Forest 61, No. 14 Virginia 53
Second round — Thursday’s results
No. 5 Virginia Tech 82, Clemson 60
No. 9 Florida State 63, No. 8 Boston College 58
No. 7 Miami 61, Duke 55
No. 6 Georgia Tech 45, Wake Forest 40
Quarterfinals — Friday‘s results
Virginia Tech 87, No. 4 North Carolina 80, OT
No. 1 N.C. State 84, Florida State 54
Miami 61, No. 2 Louisville 59
No. 3 Notre Dame 71, Georgia Tech 53
Semifinals — Saturday
(Both games on ACC Network)
Virginia Tech (23–8) vs. N.C. State (27–3), noon
Miami (19–11) vs. Notre Dame (22–7), 2:30 p.m.
Championship — Sunday
Virginia Tech or N.C. State vs. Miami or Notre Dame, noon (ESPN)
time, day, 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. 3 N.C. State|
|9||71–46 win, 14–1, 4–1||Home||No. 21 Virginia Tech|
|16||70–64 loss, 14–2, 4–2||Road||No. 20 Notre Dame|
|20||61–52 win, 15–2, 5–2||Home||Virginia|
|23||55–38 loss, 15–3, 5–3||Road||No. 25 Georgia Tech|
|27||78–62 win, 16–3, 6–3||Road||Duke|
|30||66–58 loss, 16–4, 6–4||Home||No. 3 N.C. State|
|February (7–1, 7–1 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||No. 21 Virginia Tech|
|17||66–65 win, 20–5, 10–5||Home||No. 4 Louisville|
|20||64–49 win, 21–5, 11–5||Road||Florida State|
|24||68–57 win, 22–5, 12–5||Road||Virginia|
|27||74–46 win, 23–5, 14–5||Home||Duke|
|—— ACC Tournament ——|
|4||87–80 loss, 23–6||Greensboro||No. 21 Virginia Tech|
Photos courtesy of the ACC