Unbeaten No. 6 UNC women hope to end trend of bad starts in tough road game against No. 5 Indiana

By R.L. Bynum

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The No. 6 North Carolina women’s team showed in Portland that falling behind early against ranked teams doesn’t faze the Tar Heels.

UNC (6–0) played from behind in both games on their way to the Phil Knight Invitational title, trailing in the first half by 12 before beating Oregon 85–79 in the first round and by 17 before knocking off Iowa State 73–64 in the championship game. In the fourth quarter, UNC trailed by eight against the Ducks and six against the Cyclones.

Carolina, which also was behind at halftime at James Madison in the game before heading to Portland, combined to lead for only 12 minutes, 33 seconds against Oregon and Iowa State.

As happy as the Tar Heels are about showing poise in those games, they don’t want to make a habit of getting off to bad starts. Now would be a good time to change that with the challenge of playing No. 5 Indiana (7–0) in Assembly Hall at 6 p.m. Thursday (Big Ten Network) in the final ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

Junior wing Kennedy Todd-Williams, who scored all of her 17 points against Iowa State in the second half, is ready to change that trend. She focuses more on UNC’s inability to start strongly than the excellent finishes.

“That’s something you don’t want in a game,” she said Sunday night. “We are not going to say we’re a halftime team or whatever. It’s something that we all have to work on, and we’re working on that right now, these next couple of games — playing for 40 minutes; you can’t go off on a start like that. It happens, but this is something to learn from, and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to grow from that.”

In the second half, particularly in the final minutes, defense ignited the Tar Heels’ momentum and turned the game around.

Iowa State entered the game shooting 46.6% from the floor and 35.1% from 3-point range, but UNC held the Cyclones to 34.5% and 25.7%.

“We definitely stepped it up in the second half,” said PKI MVP Deja Kelly, who scored 29 points against Iowa State and is eighth in the country and tops in the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.67. “We were very active with our hands, very aggressive.”

In the final 28 seconds, Carolina’s Destiny Adams swiped two steals, and Todd-Williams stole another as the Cyclones got off only one shot in the last 1:39 while Kelly scored six.

“These guys take pride in getting stops,” Banghart said. “Huge, huge, huge possessions defensively; showed an enormous grit. First half, we didn’t shoot so well. We started reaching and overhelping, and just things that are not who we need to be. And I thought they just locked in and really trusted one another. It was the most team-complete game I’ve been a part of yet this year.”

Carolina’s 10 blocks — three from redshirt freshman Teonni Key — were a season-high.

Indiana will test that defense. The Hoosiers are seventh in the country in scoring at 88.7 points per game, 10th in scoring margin (+29.6) and fourth in field-goal percentage (51.9%).

Indiana coach Teri Moren, whose team won two games to capture the Las Vegas Invitational title last weekend, noted UNC’s comebacks.

“The way they’ve been down and they come back, I’m sure both Iowa State and Oregon are walking away saying, ‘we should have won that game,’ ” she said Wednesday. “It was equally in their hands to be able to do that. They didn’t, but give credit to North Carolina. When you get to this level, and you play these games, nobody’s going to stop playing just because they’re down. It just doesn’t happen at our level.”

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After reviewing Carolina’s games in Portland, Moren said she wouldn’t be comfortable, regardless of the score.

“No lead is ever safe, and we know that,” Moren said. “We are more than aware that it’s going to be a 40-minute game; whether you’re up or down, it doesn’t matter. It’s going to be two really good teams that are going to be battling out [Thursday] night, so you know we’re prepared for that.”

Indiana is third in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.79. The Hoosiers have three good playmakers but UNC will only face 5–11 junior guard Chloe Moore-McNeil (fourth-best ratio in the country at 4.12) and freshman guard Yarden Garzon (11th at 3.57).

The third guard, 6–0 graduate guard Grace Berger (2.4), an All-Big Ten selection last season, suffered a knee injury early in Friday’s 96–81 win in Las Vegas over Auburn and will miss Thursday’s game. 

“She’s our leader,” Moren said. “She obviously knows our system, both offensively and defensively, better than anybody.”

Berger, averaging 10.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists and shooting 52.8% from the floor, was named Wednesday one of 16 candidates to the watch list for the Wade Trophy, which goes to the nation’s best women’s college basketball player.

Junior 6–2 Oregon transfer Sydney Parrish will start in her place, as she did in Saturday’s 79–64 victory over Memphis when she had 10 points and seven rebounds.

Berger is one of six Indiana players averaging at least 24 minutes per game, with three others averaging more than nine. Without Berger against Memphis, though, every starter played at least 33 minutes and the only reserve to play more than four minutes was Kaitlin Peterson (11).

If Indiana goes with a six-player rotation against UNC, the Heels will be in good shape if they push the pace and get the Hoosiers in foul trouble.

“What we learned in Vegas when Grace went down because it was early, is that we still have enough firepower,” Moren said. “It’s a big game with two really good teams. So, it’s a great challenge for us. North Carolina is very well-coached. They’re very good. They’re very balanced in their scoring. I wish that we had Grace Berger, but we don’t.”

Garzon, from Ra’ana, Israel, is averaging 12.9 points per game and is 13th in the country with a 52.9 three-point shooting percentage.

The player for UNC to stop Thursday will be 6–3 senior forward Mackenzie Holmes. The second-team All-Big Ten pick last season leads the Hoosiers with 20 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, as well as shooting at 76.6% with 11 blocks in seven games.

NOTES — The Iowa State comeback matched a 17-point rally against Wake Forest on Dec. 20, 2020, as the largest against a Power Five team under Banghart and the largest since erasing a 21-point deficit against High Point on Nov. 29, 2020. … It was the first win in a top-10 matchup since No. 8 UNC beat No. 4 Duke on Feb. 9, 2009. … UNC is 6–0 for the 20th time in program history and the third time in the Banghart era. … Carolina has started 3–0 away from Chapel Hill for the first time since the 2005–06 season. … Eva Hodgson is fourth in the ACC and 19th in the NCAA in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.00. As a team, UNC’s leads the ACC and is 17th in the country at 1.38. … UNC was outrebounded in each of the last three games. … It’s the first meeting with Indiana in nearly 34 years. UNC beat the Hoosiers 80–75 in the Tar Heel Invitational in Chapel Hill on Dec. 4, 1988. Carolina also won the only other meeting, 76–58, in the Kentucky Invitational on Jan. 20, 1978. … Mike Hall and Christy Winters Scott will be on the Big Ten Network’s call of the game.

UNC statistics


DateMonth/dayTime/scoreOpponent/event
(current ranking)
LocationTV/record
November
9WednesdayW, 91–59Jackson StateHome1–0
12SaturdayW, 75–48TCUHome2–0
16WednesdayW, 93–25South Carolina StateHome3–0
20SundayW, 76–65James MadisonHarrisonburg, Va.4–0
Phil Knight Invitational
24ThursdayW, 85–79OregonPortland5–0
27SundayW, 73–64No. 21 Iowa State Portland6–0
DecemberACC/Big Ten Challenge
1ThursdayL, 87–63No. 2IndianaBloomington, Ind.6–1
7WednesdayW, 64–42UNCWHome7–1
11SundayW, 99–67WoffordHome8–1
16FridayW, 89–47USC UpstateHome9–1
Jumpman Invitational
20TuesdayL, 76–68No. 12 MichiganCharlotte9–2
ACC season begins
29ThursdayL, 78–71No. 19
Florida State
Home9–3, 0–1 ACC
January
1SundayL, 68–65No. 11
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, Va.9–4, 0–2 ACC
5ThursdayL, 62–58MiamiCoral Gables, Fla.9–5, 0–3 ACC
8SundayW, 60–50No. 10
Notre Dame
Home10–5,
1–3 ACC
12ThursdayW, 70–59VirginiaCharlottesville, Va.11–5,
2–3 ACC
15SundayW, 56–47No. 22 N.C. StateHome12–5,
3–3 ACC
19ThursdayW, 61–56No. 9 DukeHome13–5,
4–3 ACC
22SundayW, 70–57Georgia TechHome14–5,
5–3 ACC
26ThursdayW, 72–57PittsburghPittsburgh15–5,
6–3 ACC
29SundayW, 69–58ClemsonClemson16–5,
7–3 ACC
February
2ThursdayW, 73–62VirginiaHome17–5,
8–3 ACC
5SundayL, 62–55LouisvilleLouisville17–6,
8–4 ACC
9Thursday7 p.m.SyracuseSyracuseACCNX (ESPN3)
12SundayNoonBoston CollegeHomeACCNX (ESPN3)
16Thursday8 p.m.No. 22 N.C. StateRaleighACCN
19Sunday4 p.m.Wake ForestHomeACCN
23Thursday8 p.m.No. 11
Virginia Tech
HomeRSNs
26SundayNoonNo. 9 DukeDurhamRSNs
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 airs on ACC Network. ACCNX means that the game is only streaming on ACC Network Extra (ESPN3.) RSNs means the game airs on regional sports networks (in many cases, Bally Sports but also MASN, NESN and Yes Network.)

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications

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