Hot-shooting Amoore, foul trouble doom Heels again in narrow loss to Hokies

By R.L. Bynum

Whenever Virginia Tech and North Carolina play in women’s basketball, you can count on an entertaining battle, foul trouble for both teams and, in most cases, hot shooting from the Hokies’ Georgia Amoore.

All three happened Sunday as Amoore scored 24 points, including three free throws with 1.8 seconds left, as the No. 7 Hokies rallied from a late four-point deficit to beat the No. 13 Tar Heels 68–65 Sunday at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Va.

It was the seventh single-digit margin in the last nine meetings.

“We fought with activity; it’s a very good team,” said UNC coach Courtney Banghart, whose team lost three in a row for the first time since the 2020–21 season. “They’ve got more seniors than I’ve probably ever had. So, they’ve just got so much experience, and we had to give them a variety of looks — to be active and force them into second and third looks was our plan, and I thought our kids did a good job of that.”

Carolina (9–4, 0–2 ACC) battled foul trouble for Deja Kelly and Alyssa Ustby and was able to do it successfully thanks to a huge game from guard Paulina Paris. The freshman scored nine of her 15 points, which tied her season-high, in the fourth quarter.

UNC had a foul to give with the score tied as Virginia Tech inbounded the ball with 14 seconds left.

“We wanted to foul if the opportunity presented itself late,” Banghart said.

Paris poked at the ball and appeared to foul Amoore on that last possession for Virginia Tech (12–2, 2–2). However, by the time Kennedy Todd-Williams fouled Amoore, she was outside the arc and in the act of shooting, giving her three free-throw attempts.

“With about eight seconds, I did smack her,” Paris said. “She bounced back out and they didn’t call anything, and then she drove against Toddy.”

UNC had one last chance. But the Hokies’ D’Asia Gregg, who blocked Anya Poole’s shot on Carolina’s previous possession, tipped away the inbounds pass in the backcourt to end the game.

Kelly collected 21 points, three rebounds and three assists before fouling out with 1:23 left. Ustby, who scored eight points in eight first-half minutes, finished with 12 points and five rebounds, playing the last 14:32 with four fouls.

Paris had her most significant minutes in a contested game and made a big difference. She had two 3-pointers and repeatedly drove to the basket for points. Banghart said that her performance wasn’t surprising given what she’s seen from Paris in practice.

“She’s approached this journey with intention,” Banghart said. “We see it. She’s trying to play at a very high level on a very good team, and matters to us. She can handle the ball. She can finish at the rim. She’s just got that toughness to her.”

Kelly remembers her struggles as a freshman and marvels at how well Paris played off the bench against the Hokies.

“It was awesome,” Kelly said. “Just watching her grow before our eyes. Being able to contribute the way she did off the bench was huge. Just seeing her get in a rhythm was exciting.”

Paris played the last 13 minutes of the game, which likely would have gotten away from Carolina if not for her play.

“It felt good,” Paris said. “I wanted to be ready to come off the bench and be able to produce and help my team. I obviously made a few mistakes in the fourth quarter. But I know, personally, I’m going to learn from that and I’m just going to try to get better every day.”

When Virginia Tech beat UNC 87–80 in overtime in the ACC tournament last season, Amoore, now a junior, scored 22 points and four 3-pointers. Amoore made six of 14 3-point attempts on Sunday.

That wasn’t the only pattern to repeat on Sunday. Kelly and Ustby both were in foul trouble in that ACC tournament game, with Kelly finishing with four fouls and Ustby fouling out.

Winning when Ustby is on the bench for the last 11:33 of the first half with two fouls, then her and Kelly battling foul trouble in the second half is difficult.

Banghart said it’s a challenge for Ustby because there is no flopping rule like there is in the men’s game.

“I think she had her first foul when she came out of the locker room and she had another one when she came out at halftime,” Banghart said of Ustby. “She’s the nicest kid in sneakers, right? So, I just don’t know why the kid got picked up. But it happened at the ACC tournament as well. If you’re guarding Alyssa and you fall, they’re going to call foul because she’s strong. There’s nothing you can do. We can teach her not to fall; we’ve done that. If you fall, they’re going to call a foul.”

What frustrates Banghart most is that she doesn’t want her players to learn to flop because those fouls won’t get called in the WNBA.

She said that if you try to flop in the WNBA, “they’re going to say ‘get your ass up.’ So it’s hard because you use your competitiveness but also recognizing that these guys are trying to be pros. If you fall you’re going to get a call in women’s basketball. That’s just a thing.”

Carolina did a good job putting multiple people on Elizabeth Kitley over the course of the game. She averages a team-leading 18.3 points per game but was held to 13.

“We just have great respect for her as a player. So the less she touches in the better,” Banghart said. “At the same time, they’ve got shooters. Obviously, Amoore loves to play against us; she always plays great. They have a lot of weapons just like we do, so we didn’t want to over-obsess [on Kitley], and I don’t think we did.”

It took nearly four minutes for UNC to score on a Todd-Williams jumper, which started an 8–3 Tar Heels run, with four Ustby points and a Kelly jumper, to take a 14–11 edge. The Hokies scored the last five first-quarter points, all on free throws, to take a 16–14 lead into the second quarter.

Ustby sat for the last 11:33 of the first half with two fouls, and Virginia Tech outscored UNC 26–21 during that stretch.

Kelly scored six of eight consecutive UNC points to give the Tar Heels a four-point lead with 1:59 left in the first half. Virginia Tech scored the last seven points of the first half to take a 37–35 lead.

After scoring UNC’s first points after halftime, Ustby picked up her third foul in the first minute of the second half. Kelly picked up her third foul midway through the third quarter.

Carolina scored the first eight second-half points to seize a 43–37 lead. But an Amoore 3 tied it at 43 with 5:18 left, and Ustby got her fourth foul with 4:32 left in the third.

A Kayana Traylor 3-point play put the Hokies up by four, but Kelly’s drive as the third quarter ended cut Virginia Tech’s lead to 53–51. Kelly drew her fourth foul with 6:50 left in the game.

Paris scored UNC’s first seven fourth-quarter points, tying it on a drive. Then, an Ustby inside bucket and a Kelly drive gave UNC a 62–58 lead with 4:15 remaining.

The Hokies went on a 6–2 run to take a 65–64 lead on a Gregg 3-pointer with 1:45 left. Kelly fouled out 22 seconds later on a charge.

Poole tied it at 65 by splitting two free-throw attempts with 56 seconds left. Todd-Williams got a steal at the other end, but Gregg blocked Poole’s inside shot with 18 seconds left after she took a pass from Paris.

“I thought she passed that last one, and shouldn’t have,” Banghart said of Paris. “She should have shot it. But I’ll take P the way she is. She’s unselfish, and she tries to make plays for others as well.”

Kayla King added 12 points and three 3-pointers. Gregg had 11 points and two 3-pointers for the Hokies, who shot better from 3-point range (38.7%) than from 2-point range (37.5%).

NOTES — Carolina visits Miami at 6 p.m. Thursday (ACC Network Extra/ESPN3). The Hurricanes (8–6, 1–2) won 74–67 at Pittsburgh on Sunday after narrowly losing 66–43 Thursday at home against No. 5 Notre Dame. … Virginia Tech’s 12 3-pointers were the second-highest total by a UNC opponent this season and its 87.5% shooting from the free throw line was the best by a UNC opponent this season. … Carolina attempted a season-low 10 free throws. … UNC fell to 21–13 in the series with Virginia Tech, with losses in seven of the last nine meetings. … Carolina is 8–15 against ranked teams under Banghart, including 2–3 this season. … It was the sixth game that UNC has trailed at halftime and the third that the Tar Heels have lost. … UNC last lost three consecutive games in 2021 with a 79–68 road loss to Louisville, a 73–69 road loss to Virginia Tech on Jan. 31 and a 61–51 home loss to Florida State on Feb. 4.

No. 7 Va. Tech 68, No. 13 UNC 65

UNC lineup combinations

51–53End 3rdParisT-WUstbyPoole13–9

(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. 17 Iowa State Portland6–0
DecemberACC/Big Ten Challenge
1ThursdayL, 87–63No. 2 IndianaBloomington, Ind.6–1
7WednesdayW, 64–42UNCWHome7–1
11SundayW, 99–67WoffordHome8–1
16FridayW, 89–47USC UpstateHome9–1
Jumpman Invitational
20TuesdayL, 76–68No. 18 MichiganCharlotte9–2
ACC season begins
29ThursdayL, 78–71Florida StateHome9–3, 0–1 ACC
1SundayL, 68–65No. 4
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, 56–47N.C. StateHome12–5,
3–3 ACC
19ThursdayW, 61–56No. 13 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
9ThursdayL, 75–67SyracuseSyracuse17–7,
8–5 ACC
12SundayW, 73–55Boston CollegeHome18–7,
9–5 ACC
16ThursdayL, 77–66, OTN.C. StateRaleigh18–8,
9–6 ACC
19SundayW, 71–58Wake ForestHome19–8,
10–6 ACC
23ThursdayL, 61–59No. 4
Virginia Tech
10–7 ACC
26SundayW, 45–41No. 13 DukeDurham20–9,
10–8 ACC
MarchACC Tournament
2ThursdayW, 68–58Clemson Greensboro21–9
3FridayL, 44–40No. 13 Duke Greensboro21–10
NCAA tournament
18SaturdayW, 61–59 St. John’sColumbus, Ohio22–10
20MondayL, 71–69No. 12 Ohio State Columbus, Ohio22–11

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications



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