UNC women fight back from big early deficit but fall short against Michigan

By R.L. Bynum

CHARLOTTE — Carolina returned to that dangerous habit of giving up significant first-half deficits to ranked teams. For the second consecutive time, the Tar Heels couldn’t recover, but they put up a much better fight.

No. 19 Michigan (11–1) held off a charging UNC for a 76–68 victory in the Jumpman Invitational, an outcome the No. 6 Tar Heels (9–2) didn’t see coming after three dominating home non-conference victories. 

The one-two punch of Leigha Brown (25 points, three 3-pointers, four assists) and Laila Phelia (20 points, three assists) was lethal when the Wolverines were building the lead.

“We knew it is a really experienced group, and good players have to play well in big games, and they did that,” UNC coach Courtney Banghart said. “So credit to them.”

The Tar Heels rallied from first-half deficits of 12 against now-No. 16 Oregon and 17 against No. 14 Iowa State in Portland. But just as UNC couldn’t come back from being down 16 before halftime at now No. 4 Indiana, the 23-point deficit Tuesday against Michigan was too much to overcome.

“The first 3 I had I noticed they were going way under on the ball screens, so I said let’s see what happens,” Brown said. “I had to make them guard me somehow, so luckily I was able to hit a few of them and that opened up a lot of things.”

Unlike against the Hoosiers, though, UNC made a run using its half-court trap and cut the lead to six in the final seconds before falling short. The deficit never got lower than 13 against Indiana.

“I think it’s just us kind of pointing inward,” said Deja Kelly, who led five double-figure scorers for the Tar Heels with 15 points and dished out a team-high five assists before fouling out in the last minute.

“This is the fourth game I would say that our halftime talk are like, ‘all right guys now, let’s pick it up in the second half; we can come back,” Kelly said. “That does not need to be the case anymore. We really have to take that step forward and figure out a way to punch first because we’ve been getting punched first.”

Eva Hodgson collected 13 points, three 3-pointers and two steals. Destiny Adams had 12 points, six rebounds and three steals. Alyssa Ustby and Kennedy Todd-Williams each scored 11, with Ustby adding 11 rebounds, four assists and two steals.

Hodgson said Carolina needs to come out with a sense of urgency at the start of games and not wait until the second half.

“[We have to make] sure that, right from the jump, this could be our second half, making that punch right away instead of waiting to do it,” Hodgson said

Banghart said she wanted to concede the perimeter and instead help put defensive pressure on the post. Then Brown, who had two 3-pointers all season before Tuesday, made three from outside the perimeter and Alyssa Crockett, who wasn’t even on UNC’s scouting report, scored two 3-pointers.

Like in the Indiana game, UNC’s opponent looked like it never was going to miss. Michigan shot 75%, and Brown scored 13 points as the Wolverines led 35–20 after one quarter and it didn’t get much better after that until the final quarter.

Conversely, the Tar Heels shot a season-low 32.4% but a season-best 85% at the free-throw line.

The bad news kept piling up after center Anya Poole drew two fouls in the first two minutes, leading to extended time in the post for Adams. Adams was productive, though.

“Destiny was able to create her activity,” Banghart said. “She was able to contribute on both sides of the floor. And so there’s an element of coaching that’s really statistic-based. So there’s an element of coaching that has a feel and kind of got to balance that.”

Ustby had three fouls with 6:11 left in the first half and got her fourth in the first minute of the fourth quarter. By the fourth quarter, Adams and Kelly had four.

Banghart said playing four ranked opponents this early was by design to prepare her team for the rugged ACC, but this season’s team is in a much different situation.

“It’s a really different mindset to go from hunting, which is what we did all [last] year — I thought we were better than people thought — to being hunted,” Banghart said. “And, clearly, my group is still figuring that part out.


“That’s a mentality shift that they’ll have to make, and we didn’t want to have to figure that out in the ACC season,” she said. “I told them if we learn about our team, game to game, then you’ll be good enough when you need to be. So, we’ll all point inward. And this will help us get a little bit better.”

After the Tar Heels started the second quarter with layups from Adams and Hodgson, they didn’t score again for nearly 4½ minutes. The Wolverines scored 12 consecutive points to go up 47–24 and equal the point total USC Upstate scored in the entire game Friday against UNC.

“There’s a lot of things that we can learn from it,” Hodgson said. “The ACC is probably one of the best conferences in the country. And so being able to learn from this game and make tweaks moving forward is going to be how we can be successful.”

An 8–2 UNC run cut the halftime deficit to 49–32. Kelly had five free throws in a 9–2 UNC run to trim Michigan’s lead to 60–48 entering the final quarter.

A Hodgson 3-pointer cut it to nine with 8:17 left in the game, the first time Michigan’s lead had been single digits since the last two minutes of the first quarter. Todd-Williams had a layup and a three-point play in a 7–2 UNC run to cut it to six on an Ustby layup with 10 seconds left.

NOTES — Carolina gets eight days off for the holidays before opening ACC play at home on Thursday, Dec. 29 against Florida State (11–2). The Seminoles, coming off an 85–77 loss to UConn, are at home for their ACC opener at noon Wednesday against Miami. Guard Ta’Niya Latson, 5–8, the ACC freshman of the week every week, leads the Seminoles with 25.3 points per game with 35 assists, 12 blocks and 29 steals. … It was the third time this season that Carolina failed to score at least 70 points, with two of those losses. … UNC’s five 3-pointers were the second-lowest total this season. … The players headed back to their hometowns after the game. Banghart will go recruiting Wednesday in Phoenix, then will meet her family in Denver and go skiing in Winter Park, Colo., and fly back to Chapel Hill on Sunday. It will be the first time her three kids have gone skiing. … UNC redshirt senior guard Ariel Young played her freshman season at Michigan before transferring. … Carolina’s men’s players, as well as Roy and Wanda Williams, were at the arena to support the women’s team. … Kelly has an NIL deal with Beats and gave every player and coach on the men’s and women’s team Beats headphones. Read more about that here. … Mike Phillips delivered a stirring rendition of the national anthem on his saxophone. … UNC fell to 2–2 in non-conference games against ranked teams this season. … Michigan evened the series with UNC, which won the only other meeting 88–75 in Chapel Hill on Dec. 4, 1987.

No. 19 Michigan 76,
No. 6 UNC 68

UNC lineup combinations


Both teams faced same schools

Michigan was the fifth non-conference school to face Carolina’s women’s and men’s basketball teams this season. The Tar Heels swept two (the two non-Power 5 schools), split two and host Indiana swept them. They both faced JMU on Nov. 20. Michigan was the third school to meet both teams in the same city on successive days, although they played Iowa State in different Portland arenas.

SchoolWomen’s gamesMen’s games
UNCWW 64–42 Dec. 7 (H)W 69–56 Nov. 7 (H)
James MadisonW 76–65 Nov. 20 (R)W 80–64 Nov. 20 (H)
Iowa StateW 73–64 Nov. 24 (P)L 70–65 Nov. 25 (P)
IndianaL 87–63 Dec. 1 (R)L 77–65 Nov. 30 (R)
MichiganL 76–68 Tuesday (C)W 80–76 Wednesday (C)
H — home game; R — road game; P — at Phil Knight Invitational in Portland; C — at Jumpman Invitational in Charlotte

(current ranking)
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
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
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
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
26SundayNoonNo. 9 DukeDurhamRSNs
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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