Banghart says No. 8 Heels trying to ‘go from eight to one’

By R.L. Bynum

While North Carolina’s loss at Indiana was humbling, it hasn’t deterred Coach Courtney Banghart one bit from believing that her Tar Heels can keep rising in the Top 25 and earning a higher national profile.

Once she watched the 87–63 loss to the now No. 4 Hoosiers again, there were a lot that she liked. 

“I felt better watching the game back than I did living it because I thought we did a lot of things on both ends pretty well,” said Banghart, who knows few teams will shoot 68.8% from 3-point range through three quarters as the Hoosiers did, and her team isn’t likely to miss that many layup attempts.

“I didn’t think we played poorly at all,” she said. “I thought we didn’t finish well; didn’t always guard at the level we need to. But I think it was kind of the perfect storm of them really being lights out at home in a great home environment.”

One road loss in a hostile environment doesn’t erase two earlier impressive come-from-behind victories (85–79 over now No. 17 Oregon and 73–64 over now No. 10 Iowa State) in Portland to give ranked teams their only losses.

That’s why the Tar Heels only dropped two spots in the AP Top 25 to No. 8, although they dropped three spots to No. 9 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Banghart isn’t satisfied with being No. 8.

“What we’re trying to do is to go from eight to one, and the margins there are so thin,” said Banghart, who thought her team played better against Indiana than in either of those Portland games. “Clearly with how the rankings went down, I think it’s hard to win those games.

“I think what they learned at Indiana, what we all learned, is that every game is an opportunity to compete against somebody else and you’ve got to find a way to accentuate your strengths and find their weaknesses,” she said.

After those three games on the road against ranked teams, the Tar Heels (6–1) will be heavily favored in three non-conference home games before they face No. 14 Michigan (9–0) at the Jumpman Invitational in Charlotte on Dec. 20.

UNC faces UNCW (2–5 and 288th in the NET rankings) at 6 p.m. Wednesday (ACC Network Extra/ESPN3), Wofford (7–2, 100th) at 1 p.m. Sunday and South Carolina-Upstate (1–6, 354th) at 6 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 16.

Banghart said she’ll focus more on helping her team get better and develop depth than the scouting report.

“We’ve got to get deeper, and you get better in games by playing in games, so hopefully we can continue to develop that,” Banghart said. “Whenever you can continue to utilize your depth, it allows you to hold people to a standard. We’ve got a lot of guys that we think can help us, and those that give us the most on a day-to-day basis will play the most.”

Rising stars — such as sophomore forward Destiny Adams, freshman guard Paulina Paris and redshirt freshman forward Teonni Key — have given Carolina quality minutes off the bench that will undoubtedly go up as the season continues.

Against Indiana, Paris only played as the third guard, with sophomore guard Deja Kelly and graduate guard Eva Hodgson each playing the entire game. Kelly has played all but four minutes of the last three games and Hodgson has played all but five.

Banghart, who didn’t provide an update on the timetable for the return of redshirt freshman guard Kayla McPherson, said that she didn’t mind the heavy minutes for Kelly and Hodgson, given the limited practice time recently.

“Typically, you’re using a bulk of your minutes in the practice setting,” Banghart said. “We’re a little different this year. We’re getting the kids what they need to ensure that they’re continuing to get in shape. You don’t want to be in shape now and then deteriorate in February. So it’s a pretty scientific approach that we’re using.”

While Kelly’s NIL opportunities drew plenty of offseason attention, her laser-focus behind the scenes was to improve her playmaking ability and becoming more efficient with the ball in her hands.

The improvement in her floor game has been a huge boost as the Tar Heels navigated through three challenging games.

She leads UNC in scoring at 16.7 points per game and her assist-to-turnover ratio has gone from 1.2 last season (83 assists and 69 turnovers) to 4.14 (29 and 7) through six games, the fifth-best in the country.

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Banghart said it became Kelly’s priority after pro scouts told Kelly she had to improve that ratio.

“Her assists-turnover ratio and her ability to get others involved in reading secondary and third line of defense is that next layer for her,” Banghart said. “So, that’s been her sole focus is making sure that we grow in that area. Not only do we want to win championships here, we want to develop pros.”

Kelly’s best assist game last season was six in the ACC tournament loss to Virginia Tech. She’s already topped that three times this season with seven against TCU, Oregon and Indiana. After having two or fewer turnovers in 21 of 32 games last season, she’s done it in all six if her games this season.

“It’s just a huge testament to her trust in what we’re asking her to do,” said Banghart, who added that she isn’t worried about Kelly’s perimeter shooting woes. She’s shooting 22.2% from 3-point range after hitting at a 36.1% clip last season. “The day I worry about Deja Kelly scoring is the day I’ve literally gone insane. For her, it’s making sure that she can continue to grow as a player. Her shot will come because that’s what she is already great at.”

NOTES — UNCW, which shot a season-low 25.4% in a 78–36 Sunday loss at Virginia, has only one win over a Division I team, beating Winthrop 79–61 at home on Thursday. The Seahawks’ two other wins came over Division II Virginia Union (71–51) and Mount Olive (84–59). … Graduate guard Carrie Gross, a Xavier transfer, leads UNCW at 14.4 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. … Tina Martin, in her sixth season on the UNCW coaching staff, is the Seahawks’ interim head coach. She was Elena Delle Donne’s coach at Delaware. … UNCW is 3–39 all-time against the ACC and 0–4 against UNC. … Kyle Straub, Daron Vaught and Marilyn Payne will be on the ACC Network Extra call of the game. … The season debut of the “Holding Court with Courtney Banghart” radio show will be recorded at noon Monday at the Sheraton Chapel Hill and air at 8 o’clock that night on WCHL (97.9 FM/1360 AM). Fans are invited to attend the taping.

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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