Short-handed No. 12 UNC rolls by Jackson State in opener

By R.L. Bynum

CHAPEL HILL — Even without all the pieces of what should be a national contender, Carolina’s No. 12 women’s basketball team showed why they are one of the best teams in the country by rolling to an opening-game victory.

Against Jackson State, which won 23 games last season and only lost to LSU in the NCAA tournament by six points, the short-handed Tar Heels flexed their muscles, beating the Tigers 91–59 on Wednesday night at Carmichael Arena.

The nine available Tar Heels players overwhelmed the Tigers with tough defense, good ball movement and excellent shooting.

“I told them before the game that that first game out wouldn’t be our best, and we proved that to be the case,” fourth-year UNC coach Courtney Banghart said. “We were solid in the first half on both ends and a lot less on the second half on both ends.”

With the four starters back and freshman guard Paulina Paris looking impressive off the bench, Carolina should be just fine as it waits for five-star redshirt freshman center Teonni Key and four-star redshirt freshman guard Kayla McPherson to make their college debuts.

McPherson’s absence was expected; she is likely out until January with a lower-body injury. But Key, still working her way back after knee surgery while practicing, also sat out the opener, as well as redshirt senior guard Ariel Young.

Banghart said you’ll see Key “very soon” but didn’t provide a firm timetable.

“It’s super-exciting,” Banghart said of the prospects once all her players are available. “We’ve got some kids coming off of injury; we’ve got some kids that are minutes-restricted. So, to see it come together with the pieces that we have, showing toughness, showing that we’re getting healthier? We’re a lot healthier than we were last week.”

The only anxious moment of the night was when junior guard Deja Kelly fell to the floor early in the second half. She tweaked the left ankle she hurt during preseason practice, which was already a little sore. 

Kelly, who had been limited in practices, came out of the game after scoring seven points. With it being a blowout, there was no reason for her to return.

Versatile juniors Kennedy Todd-Williams and Alyssa Ustby had their usual terrific all-around games.

Todd-Williams scored a career-high 20 points and tied her career-high with three 3-pointers, adding nine rebounds and two steals. 

Ustby, who had 13 double-doubles last season, did again with 19 points and 10 rebounds, five assists and three blocks. All that came even though she is a little banged up, which is why she only played a little more than 18 minutes.

“Everyone can step up, no matter who’s on the floor,” Todd-Williams said. “We all work together. We’ve been practicing, I don’t know how many days, since the summer and all that. So you can just tell that it is carrying over every step of the way.”

Fifth-year guard Eva Hodgson showed her grit in seamlessly jumping into the starting lineup for the first time as a Tar Heel with 13 points, five rebounds and five assists. Her performance was no surprise, whether it was tough defense, 3-point shooting (2 3-pointers) or a challenging drive to the hoop for a basket.

“I think, for her, the role last year was to be whatever we need you to be,” Banghart said. “And I think this year, she’s got to do a little bit of the same. She is remarkedly consistent. We care about who finishes games, and she finished a lot of games last year.”

Hodgson brought her energy a little earlier than last season when she backed up Carlie Littlefield, whom the NCAA denied a fifth season of eligibility.

“It didn’t feel like an adjustment at all, really, because that was part of my role last year was to come off the bench and provide a spark,” Hodgson said. “That’s exactly what I did last year, and it made the transition this year much smoother.”

Paris scored 13 points and two 3-pointers and swiped three steals in her college debut as four Tar Heels netted 3-pointers. Destiny Adams came off the bench with eight points and four steals.

Hodgson and Paris, guards who are the oldest and youngest players on the team, bonded quickly last summer, and Hodgson said that she isn’t surprised with how Paris performed.

“She went in there, and she did exactly what we need to do,” Hodgson said. “Those minutes are gonna be big for the rest of the season. We’re gonna need a spark to come off the bench again. We need someone who can knock down shots and be consistent on both ends of the floor. It’s her first college game, and she showed a lot of good things.”

Kelly was also impressed with Paris, who showed flair and determination.

“She definitely did not look like a freshman,” Kelly said of Paris (below photo). “I think we’re really proud of her and happy for her. She has definitely attacked it really well in practice, and it carried over to the game.”

Carolina went on a 21–3 run midway through the first half after trailing by one in the first 5½ minutes. A Kelly jumper, a Hodgson 3-pointer and an Adams steal and layup ignited the run with seven consecutive points. Paris scored her first five college points during that run.

“Defensively, we really forced them into the shots they didn’t want, which led to longer rebounds, and we were able to run,” Banghart said of that first-half flurry. “When we get stops, we’re pretty aggressive on the offensive end. So I thought the first few possessions, they were getting good looks. And then we just put our foot on the gas; it just takes time.”

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UNC scored the last 12 first-half points, five from Alexandra Zelaya, including a 3-pointer, to shove the lead to 53–20 by halftime. Carolina stretched the lead to 41 on a Paris layup with 3:25 left in the third quarter.

Guard Jariyah Covington led Jackson State with 19 points.

NOTES —  Carolina faces TCU at home at 1 p.m. Saturday (ACC Network Extra/ESPN3). The Horned Frogs, 6–22 last season with a 79–46 home loss on Nov. 21 to the Tar Heels, beat Lipscomb 69–62 in their opener at home on Monday. … UNC shot better from the floor (57.8%) than from the free-throw line (45.5%). … The scheduled preseason closed scrimmage with reigning champion South Carolina wasn’t played. … For years, the UNC students sat in the bleachers across from the benches, in a tradition that goes back to when the men’s team played at Carmichael. This season, they will sit in sections 102 and 103 in the corner and baseline on the arena’s north side, with section 202 as the overflow section. The change will put make them more visible during television broadcasts. … The game drew 2,315 fans. … It was the first meeting between UNC and Jackson State, which won the SWAC the last two seasons, lost 83–77 to LSU in the first round of the NCAA tournament and finished 23–7. … Most of the UNC men’s basketball team watched the game from the bleachers. … Former UNC center Jaelynn Murray had a front-row seat behind one baseline, a couple of seats away from men’s basketball game host Brian “BDaht” McLaughlin.

No. 12 UNC 91, Jackson State 59



DateMonth/dayTime/scoreOpponent/event
(current ranking)
LocationTV/record
November
9Wednesday91–59Jackson StateHome1–0
12Saturday75–48TCUHome2–0
16Wednesday93–25South Carolina StateHome3–0
20Sunday76–65James MadisonHarrisonburg, Va.4–0
Phil Knight Invitational
24Thursday85–79No. 18 OregonPortland5–0
27Sunday73–64No. 5 Iowa State Portland6–0
DecemberACC/Big Ten Challenge
1Thursday6 p.m.No. 6 IndianaBloomington, Ind.Big Ten Network
7Wednesday6 p.m.UNCWHomeACCNX (ESPN3)
11Sunday1 p.m.WoffordHomeACCNX (ESPN3)
16Friday6 p.m.South Carolina – UpstateHomeACCNX (ESPN3)
Jumpman Invitational
20Tuesday7 p.m.No. 22 MichiganCharlotteESPN2
ACC season begins
29Thursday8 p.m.Florida StateHomeRSN
January
1Sunday4 p.m.No. 11 Virginia TechBlacksburg, Va.ACCN
5Thursday6 p.m.MiamiCoral Gables, Fla.ACCNX (ESPN3)
8Sunday4 p.m.No. 7 Notre DameHomeACCN
12Thursday7 p.m.VirginiaCharlottesville, Va.ACCNX (ESPN3)
15Sunday3:30No. 13 N.C. StateHomeESPN
19Thursday8 p.m.DukeHomeACCN
22Sunday4 p.m.Georgia TechHomeACCN
26Thursday6 p.m.PittsburghPittsburghACCNX (ESPN3)
29Sunday4 p.m.ClemsonClemsonACCN
February
2Thursday6 p.m.VirginiaHomeRSN
5SundayNoonNo. 10 LouisvilleLouisvilleESPN2
9Thursday7 p.m.SyracuseSyracuseACCNX (ESPN3)
12SundayNoonBoston CollegeHomeACCNX (ESPN3)
16Thursday8 p.m.No. 13 N.C. StateRaleighACCN
19Sunday4 p.m.Wake ForestHomeACCN
23Thursday8 p.m.No. 11 Virginia TechHomeRSN
26SundayNoonDukeDurhamRSN
March
ACC Tournament
1–5Wednesday–SundayTBATBAGreensboroACCN Wed.-Sat.; final on ESPN or ESPN2
You can buy tickets to home games here. ACCN means the game air on ACC Network. ACCNX means that the game is only streaming on ACC Network Extra (ESPN3.) RSN means the game airs on regional sports networks (in many cases, Bally Sports but also MASN, NESN and Yes Network.)

Photos courtesy of UNC Athletics Communicat

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