By R.L. Bynum
Carolina’s women keep battling until the end, but not enough shots are falling and the heartbreaking losses just keep coming.
The No. 22 Tar Heels lost their fourth consecutive game and are 0–3 in the ACC for the third time in program history after falling 62–58 at Miami on Thursday night.
All four losses for Carolina (9–5, 0–4 ACC) have come by eight points or fewer, with the Miami loss coming after a three-point setback Sunday at No. 9 Virginia Tech.
“There’s no secret we’re not shooting the ball very well,” said UNC coach Courtney Banghart, whose team shot 35% for the game, was 3 of 15 in the third quarter and put up season lows for points, field goals (21) and blocks(1). “Statistically, we’re really struggling. Every possession is so hard when we’ve been unable to create any transition action.
“We’ve got to shift our focus and try to help each other get good shots more in rhythm,” she said. “But other times they’re great shots and we’re not shooting well.”
Opponents have outrebounded the Tar Heels in all four losses and, against the Hurricanes (9–6, 2–2), UNC’s two tallest players who played (Alexandra Zelya and Teonni Key) combined with starting center Anya Poole for 1 shot, no points and eight rebounds.
When Carolina couldn’t get the transition game going, overcoming the challenges inside got even harder.
“You either have to play fast and score easy ones where you got to shoot well, or you’re gonna be in these dogfights,” Banghart said. “There was a couple of 50/50 balls that we’re not coming down with. But overall really good teams and those two areas are the areas that we’re not getting enough on.”
It doesn’t get any easier for the Tar Heels, who are 2–3 against ranked teams and host No. 4 Notre Dame (12–1, 3–0) at 4 p.m. Sunday (ACC Network).
“What a great conference,” Banghart said. “You have an opportunity every night to play against a team that’s got good players and good coaches and it’s a battle night after night. We know we’ve got another one coming up on Sunday.”
One day after RJ Davis, in his 82nd game, became the 81st UNC men’s player to score 1,000 career points, Deja Kelly, in her 68th game, became the 39th Carolina women’s player to reach that plateau with 19 points.
Kelly’s 4-point play with 1:28 left cut it to 59–57 and Alyssa Ustby cut it to one by splitting a pair of free throws with 49 seconds.
After Miami’s Lazaria Spearman got a huge offensive rebound with 14 seconds left, Haley Cavinder’s two free throws pushed the lead to three with 11.2 seconds left. Kelly missed a 3-point attempt with five seconds left, Moulayna Johnson Sidi Baba put the game away on a free throw with 2.1 seconds left.
Carolina played well defensively, forcing 20 turnovers, but couldn’t make enough shots and went on a few long scoring droughts.
“I think trying to build up the whole team right now, especially for me personally,” Kelly, who played all 40 minutes, said of the overall confidence level that she hopes can rise to the level it was late last season. “Just trying to bring back that fight in everyone, that grit and that competitiveness. I think that’s what we’re missing.”
Miami’s defense inside and the hot-shooting from the Cavinder twins outside made for a daunting combination. Haley Cavinder scored 16 points and two 3-pointers and Hanna Cavinder had nine points and three 3-pointers.
“It comes down to small possessions in the end,” Kelly said. “And I think it doesn’t matter enough to us right now. We go back to practice and we really focus again. It sucks to be losing, but the league is really good and it just takes a lot more to win these games.”
Ustby, who collected 11 points, eight rebounds and three assists, said that UNC couldn’t come up with the little plays when they needed productive possession.
“I think we’re not able to come up with the ball. Just little things matter and I think it just slipped away,” Ustby said.”
Kennedy Todd-Williams added 13 points for UNC.
UNC fell behind by seven after a Karla Erjavec 3-pointer with 3:51 left in the first quarter, but a Todd-Williams 3-pointer trimmed the Tar Heels’ deficit to 17–13 heading into the second quarter.
After Miami went more than six minutes without a basket, it went on an 8–0 run to take a 10-point lead with 5:53 left in the first half after two Hanna Cavinder 3-pointers.
A Kelly jumper 48 seconds later started an 11–0 run — with two Paris 3-pointers and one from Hodgson with 2:59 left — to take a 26–25 edge before trailing 32–30 at halftime.
Paris’ impact was obvious in the final 11:30 of the first half when UNC outscored Miami 17–7 with the freshman guard on the court, trailing 6–0 with her on the bench.
UNC took a 36–35 lead on a Kelly layup with 8:20 left to cap a 6–0 run, but went scoreless for nearly seven minutes. Fortunately for the Tar Heels, they turned up the defense and held Miami scoreless for nearly 5½ minutes.
But an 11–1 Miami run pushed its lead to nine points. Two Kelly free throws with a half-second left cut UNC’s deficit to 46–39 headed to the fourth quarter. She had seven of the Tar Heels’ nine third-quarter points as they went without a field goal for the final eight minutes.
After missing 12 consecutive shots, UNC made its first three fourth-quarter shots. Hodgson’s three free throws with 6:35 left sliced Miami’s deficit to 51–49.
“They’re definitely a physical team,” Kelly said. “What they like to do each game is to cause a lot of turnovers, but I think it was just us. We were really stagnant offensively at first and especially in third quarter. I don’t think we got the right shots that we wanted.”
A Jasmine Roberts 3-pointer put Miami up by seven with 5:18 left but Todd-Williams’ follow shot cut it to 56–53 with 3:32 remaining. Lazar Spearman’s layup and free throw pushed the Canes’ lead back to six with 1:39 left.
NOTES —Notre Dame will be the fourth game against a top-10 team and third against a opponent ranked in the top 5 at the time of the meeting (also Indiana and Iowa State). The Irish, who will have had a week of rest since the Irish’s 85–48 home win last Sunday over Boston College, have won six consecutive games since a 74–72 home loss Dec. 1 to No. 13 Maryland. … On Wednesday, Kelly was named one of five ACC players on the midseason 25-player watch list for the Wooden Award. … It is UNC’s first four-game losing streak since losing the last eight games of the 2019–20 season, Banghart’s first. … Carolina’s last 0–3 ACC start was in the 2018–19 season — Coach Sylvia Hatchell’s final season — when it lost to Louisville 73–66 on Jan. 3, Florida State 64–63 on Jan. 6 and Syracuse 90–77 on Jan. 13. … It was the Tar Heels’ fourth consecutive loss at Miami since a 66–65 victory in Coral Gables on Feb. 22, 2015. … UNC leads the series 15–13 but has lost seven of the last nine meetings.
Miami 62, UNC 58
UNC lineup combinations
|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. 21 Iowa State||Portland||6–0|
|December||ACC/Big Ten Challenge|
|1||Thursday||L, 87–63||No. 2Indiana||Bloomington, Ind.||6–1|
|16||Friday||W, 89–47||USC Upstate||Home||9–1|
|20||Tuesday||L, 76–68||No. 12 Michigan||Charlotte||9–2|
|ACC season begins|
|29||Thursday||L, 78–71||No. 19 |
|Home||9–3, 0–1 ACC|
|1||Sunday||L, 68–65||No. 11 |
|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||No. 22 N.C. State||Home||12–5, |
|19||Thursday||W, 61–56||No. 9 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||7 p.m.||Syracuse||Syracuse||ACCNX (ESPN3)|
|12||Sunday||Noon||Boston College||Home||ACCNX (ESPN3)|
|16||Thursday||8 p.m.||No. 22 N.C. State||Raleigh||ACCN|
|19||Sunday||4 p.m.||Wake Forest||Home||ACCN|
|23||Thursday||8 p.m.||No. 11 |
|26||Sunday||Noon||No. 9 Duke||Durham||RSNs|
|1–5||Wednesday–Sunday||TBA||TBA||Greensboro||ACCN Wed.-Sat.; final on ESPN or ESPN2|
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications