By R.L. Bynum
While most men’s teams play their NCAA tournament openers a few days after their conference tournaments, most women’s teams don’t even know their tournament draw for a week afterward.
It’s an odd dynamic that women’s coaches have to deal with on an annual basis, and this is the 10th time for North Carolina’s third-year coach Courtney Banghart and the second time for most of her players.
When her No. 5-seed and 17th-ranked Tar Heels (23–6) face No. 12-seed Stephen F. Austin (28–4) at 7:30 Saturday night in Tucson, Ariz., (ESPN News), it will be 15 days after they lost 87–80 in overtime to Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament.
“We focused on ourselves a lot and on some key things that went wrong, so that they wouldn’t go wrong again,” graduate guard Eva Hodgson said. “It wasn’t how we wanted it to go, but we learned a lot from it. And we’ll see them again next year and we’re going to have a lot of good teams to play in the next week.”
For the first nine days after the loss to the Hokies, Banghart didn’t even know who Carolina might face or where they would play.
For that first week after the ACC Tournament, Banghart got creative while much of her team dealt with mid-term exams. The first day, the players worked on individual skills Banghart felt each needed to work on, and it was different for every player.
“We were able to break down their own skill set and give them kind of an individual workout, like you do in the spring and fall,” Banghart said. “We also worked on some positional things — pace in and out of ball screens or setting up your defender or just various kind of positional things that are important.”
Some of those drills were done against men students who routinely practice against the team. To make it fun, the players randomly picked situations out of a hat.
“You have a situation where maybe you’re tied with 12 seconds left and you have the ball or you’re up one and you’ve got two fouls to give with 10 seconds on the sideline or whatever. So, we kind of work through some situational stuff as well. Just ways to stay engaged and also be a little bit different so that you don’t get too routinized.”
Banghart put her team through a heavy mix of a little bit of everything that first week, including positional skills and team themes. They scrimmaged against the men practice players for two 10-minute quarters to try to stay in the rhythm of games.
“We tried to make it have the ebbs and flows for their bodies, with some consistent work in shorter sessions,” Banghart said.
Once the Tar Heels discovered their first-round opponent on Tuesday, the focus was then on Stephen F. Austin, with one assistant coach assigned to scout No. 4-seed and No. 19-ranked and subregional host Arizona (20–7) and No. 13-seed UNLV (26–6), the potential Monday second-round opponents if UNC advances.
Carolina arrived in Tucson Wednesday to get acclimated to the area which, of course, isn’t an issue for sophomore reserve center Ally Zelaya, who grew up in Goodyear, Ariz.
“We’re treating this a lot like an ACC week where you have a game Thursday and Sunday, and we just certainly hope we have two games on this particular week. Turnaround will be right after that game,” Banghart said if UNC wins in the first round. “The benefit is they play after us so our kids will be able to watch in live. Then, just like the ACC, you have a full day to wrap your heads around it before you play again. So yeah, it’s one at a time and that’s not just cliche. It’s for real.”
Between now and Saturday, the Tar Heels will enjoy spring break and beautiful weather in Arizona.
NCAA tournament bracket
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. 17 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. 17 Virginia Tech|
|17||66–65 win, 20–5, 10–5||Home||No. 5 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 OT loss, 23–6||Greensboro||No. 17 Virginia Tech|
|—— NCAA Tournament ——|
|19||7:30 Saturday, ESPN News||Tucson, Ariz.||Stephen F. Austin|
Photo courtesy of the ACC