By R.L. Bynum
Eva Hodgson’s clutch perimeter shooting and court savvy carried No. 8 North Carolina down the stretch for the second consecutive game.
Hodgson scored 17 of her UNC career-high 21 points in the second half, including a four-point play and two huge free throws with 28 seconds left. That helped the Tar Heels rally from an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat No. 18 Oregon 85–79 in the first round of the Phil Knight Invitational at the Chiles Center in Portland, Ore.
Carolina (5–0), which overcame several big deficits, faces No. 5 Iowa State (5–0), which beat Michigan State 80-49 in the other first round game, in the championship game at 7:30 p.m. Sunday night (ESPN2) at the Moda Center.
Hodgson’s four-point play with 5:12 left gave Carolina the lead for good.
“My coach and my teammates have been telling me, in the year and a half that I’ve been here, to just shoot the ball and let it fly,” said Hodgson, who hit three crucial 3-pointers in the second half of Sunday’s 76–65 victory at James Madison. “And so having their confidence in me, I knew towards the end of the game that we needed something that would just change the stride of the game and the pace and the energy.
“So, I caught it, and I didn’t even think twice about it, just let it fly,” said Hodgson of one of five of her 3-pointers. “And the fact that it was an and-one kind of made it a lot sweeter and right in front of the bench so that everyone can celebrate. So, it was a lot of fun to do it right there and, in that moment, with the squad.”
All five starters scored in double figures, with Alyssa Ustby scoring 19 (with eight rebounds), Deja Kelly 15 (with seven assists), Anya Poole 11 (with seven rebounds) and Kennedy Todd-Williams 10 (with six rebounds, four assists and two steals).
After Oregon took an 11-point lead early in the third quarter, Hodgson had a steal, two assists and a 3-pointer to fuel an 8–0 run and cut the lead to three. The Tar Heels scored the last seven points of the third quarter, with Paulina Paris’ last-second layup giving them a 56–55 lead entering the final quarter.
With the help of two banked-in 3-pointers, Oregon started the fourth quarter with an 11–2 run to seize an eight-point lead, and that’s when the game flipped. UNC outscored Oregon 27–13 over the last 7:44 of the game with inspired play on defense and confidence on the offensive end.
“I think urgency — even the sense of we could lose this game if we don’t change something — kind of hit everyone,” Hodgson said of when UNC fell behind early in the final quarter. She said they came out of a timeout and said, “ ‘this is it; either we’re going on a run and we’re going to win this game or we’re going to just play and we could lose.’ So I think that, in itself, was what changed momentum.”
The turnaround on the defensive end that created 10 second-half points off turnovers came after UNC coach Courtney Banghart went small. She played sophomore Destiny Adams (five points, five rebounds, two blocks and two steals) in the post for 16 minutes in the second half, and the entire fourth quarter, after she played only seven in the first half.
Banghart made the change because Oregon (4–1) kept scoring consistently off of ball screens.
“They were really stretching us out and using their ball screen to try to create advantages,” Banghart said. “And, so she gave us an opportunity to switch, and that would allow us to keep bodies in front of the ball. Destiny’s relentlessness and fearlessness and competitiveness and activity — she gets her hands on things, and it’s welcomed. She’s locked in to how we’re playing certain actions better. She’s a perfect example of when you play hard, you contribute to winning.”
When UNC went on a big run at the end of the third quarter, it was with Ustby and Adams as the post players and Kelly, Hodgson and Paris at the guard spots.
Playing small meant center Poole went from playing 13 first-half minutes to only four in the second half, centers Ally Zelaya and Malu Tshitenge never got into the game and Teonni Key only played four minutes.
“We definitely take pride in our defense, and we’re still learning how to play off each other and on that side of the ball,” said Kelly after UNC forced 18 turnovers. “But, individually, taking pride in being disruptive and playing collective defense as well. Definitely defensively, our goal is to force them to make a lot of turnovers, and we did that tonight, and I think that was the game-changer.”
Oregon jumped out to a 7–0 lead, but UNC responded with eight consecutive points, capped by Todd-Williams’ 3-pointer. The Ducks led 23–20, though, after the opening quarter.
Carolina trailed by as many as 12 points in the second quarter. Kelly scored four points in a 12–3 run before Te-Hina Paopao’s late 3-pointer gave the Ducks a 44–39 halftime lead.
Paopao led the Ducks with 18 points, with Gra Vanslooten adding 17.
NOTES — UNC moved to 2–1 against Oregon all-time. The visiting team won the previous two meetings, the Tar Heels winning 76–59 in 2014–15 and the Ducks winning 79–77 in 2015–16. … UNC has split the previous two meetings against Iowa State. The Tar Heels won the last meeting with the Cyclones 79–67 in the 1999–2000 season. … While the UNC men’s team will go directly from Portland to Bloomington, Ind., for their game Wednesday against Indiana, the Carolina women’s team will return to Chapel Hill for two days since its game at Indiana isn’t until Thursday.
No. 8 UNC 85, No. 18 Oregon 79
|9||Wednesday||W, 91–59||Jackson State||Home||1–0|
|16||Wednesday||W, 93–25||South Carolina State||Home||3–0|
|20||Sunday||W, 76–65||James Madison||Harrisonburg, Va.||4–0|
|Phil Knight Invitational|
|27||Sunday||W, 73–64||No. 17 Iowa State||Portland||6–0|
|December||ACC/Big Ten Challenge|
|1||Thursday||L, 87–63||No. 2 Indiana||Bloomington, Ind.||6–1|
|16||Friday||W, 89–47||USC Upstate||Home||9–1|
|20||Tuesday||L, 76–68||No. 18 Michigan||Charlotte||9–2|
|ACC season begins|
|29||Thursday||L, 78–71||Florida State||Home||9–3, 0–1 ACC|
|1||Sunday||L, 68–65||No. 4 |
|Blacksburg, Va.||9–4, 0–2 ACC|
|5||Thursday||L, 62–58||Miami||Coral Gables, Fla.||9–5, 0–3 ACC|
|8||Sunday||W, 60–50||No. 10 |
|12||Thursday||W, 70–59||Virginia||Charlottesville, Va.||11–5, |
|15||Sunday||W, 56–47||N.C. State||Home||12–5, |
|19||Thursday||W, 61–56||No. 13 Duke||Home||13–5, |
|22||Sunday||W, 70–57||Georgia Tech||Home||14–5, |
|26||Thursday||W, 72–57||Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh||15–5, |
|29||Sunday||W, 69–58||Clemson||Clemson||16–5, |
|2||Thursday||W, 73–62||Virginia||Home||17–5, |
|5||Sunday||L, 62–55||Louisville||Louisville||17–6, |
|9||Thursday||L, 75–67||Syracuse||Syracuse||17–7, |
|12||Sunday||W, 73–55||Boston College||Home||18–7, |
|16||Thursday||L, 77–66, OT||N.C. State||Raleigh||18–8, |
|19||Sunday||W, 71–58||Wake Forest||Home||19–8, |
|23||Thursday||L, 61–59||No. 4 |
|26||Sunday||W, 45–41||No. 13 Duke||Durham||20–9, |
|3||Friday||L, 44–40||No. 13 Duke||Greensboro||21–10|
|18||Saturday||W, 61–59||St. John’s||Columbus, Ohio||22–10|
|20||Monday||L, 71–69||No. 12 Ohio State||Columbus, Ohio||22–11|
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications