By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — With No. 17 North Carolina already playing well, the Tar Heels figured to be mighty hard to beat when Deja Kelly shook off her perimeter shooting struggles.
With her shooting ability, it was only a matter of time.
Behind the junior guard’s 18 points and season-high four 3-pointers — and with recent turnover issues mostly absent — the Heels rolled to a 70–57 victory Sunday over Georgia Tech before 4,418 fans at Carmichael Arena.
“It felt pretty good,” said Kelly, who was 7 of 14 from the floor and 4 of 6 from 3-point range after making 29.1% of her 3-point attempts in ACC play before Sunday. “I just have to keep reminding myself that my percentages are not a reflection of the type of shooter I am. Just having that confidence to still keep shooting regardless of misses.”
Carolina (14–5, 5–3 ACC) has won five ACC games in a row for the first time under fourth-year coach Courtney Banghart.
“Really thrilled with the growth of our offense over the last two weeks or so,” said Banghart, whose team shot 47.4% after shooting 48.9% in Thursday’s 61–56 win over No. 13 Duke. “Playing better on that end and having the maturation on that end that we want.”
The Tar Heels moved into a four-way tie in the loss column for fourth place in the ACC. The Tar Heels are two games behind league-leaders Duke (17–2, 7–1) and No. 7 Notre Dame (16–2, 7–1), who both suffered their only conference losses to UNC.
Also scoring in double figures were Alyssa Ustby (17 points, five rebounds, two blocks and a steal), Kennedy Todd-Williams (13 points, seven rebounds, a steal and a 3-pointer for the eighth consecutive game) and Eva Hodgson (10 points, two 3-pointers, three assists and a block).
Kelly has been efficient in many other parts of her game during the win streak, from court leadership and tough defense to scoring at crucial moments. Banghart said it is a sign of a good basketball player when they can have a significant impact on the game without scoring as efficiently as she would prefer.
“As our offense has gotten better, she’ll get shots more in rhythm,” Banghart said. “That’s what you saw today. Some of the shots that she’s taken over the last month or so, some of them have been really challenged. And that’s partly her own doing, and it’s partly our team’s doing. As our offense gets better, her shooting percentage will go up as well.”
Kelly’s perimeter shots weren’t falling until Sunday, when she scored multiple 3-pointers for only the third time this season (she had two against Iowa State and two against Virginia).
Kelly said that she hadn’t changed her shot but had been putting up plenty of shots in practice. Before her hot-shooting against the Jackets, the perimeter shots always seemed to bounce off the rim before falling in.
All of her 3-pointers were nothing but net Sunday.
“I think it kind of reflects how it’s been going,” said Kelly, who played an ACC-season-low of 29 minutes, 42 seconds and also pulled down five rebounds. “I’ve had a bounce in the past two, three games. For today, I think I’ve just been repping it out, trying to get as many reps as I can. It’s just a confidence thing, a mental thing for me.”
Kelly wasn’t the only one firing shots in from deep as Carolina shot an ACC-season-high 44.4% from 3-point range. They needed only 18 shots to get eight 3-pointers after needing 28 shots to get nine in the win against N.C. State and 27 to get eight in the loss to Miami.
“I think 3s, just in general, are a momentum pusher,” said Ustby, who made her only 3-point attempt. “You see how excited and how much we love to celebrate when each other makes 3s. We’re sharing the ball lot. We had a lot of assists, which is good, so it picks up the energy.”
Carolina keeps improving its performance under the boards. The Tar Heels outrebounded the Jackets 42–35 and have outrebounded two of the last three opponents after being outrebounded in their first five league games. UNC had a 28–18 edge on inside points and, for the first time since the Miami loss on Jan. 5, got more second-chance points than the opponent (15–6).
The fact that the opponent was the Jackets, who fell to 10–10 and 1–8 and have lost six of their last seven, may have something to do with it. But the offense looked much crisper with better spacing than in the wins over State and Duke.
Banghart says that the spacing has improved the offense, and that it’s a product of a lot of video and practice work.
“I think even in the second half of the Duke game, we just were starting to do the things that we know we have to do, and there’s a little bit of a nuance to offense because it’s a collective,” Banghart said. “And they’re starting to cut at the right times, screen at the right angles, use their dribble at the right time and use their pass at the right time.
“Their rhythm is much better, which is leading to better shots, and they’re finding where they can attack without each of them being on an island,” Banghart said. “So, the offense has gotten better. We feel like it’s gotten better in practice, and it’s starting to show, which is timely.”
Kara Dunn’s 3-pointer gave the Jackets an early 7–5 lead, but Carolina ended the first quarter with a 13–4 run, including a Kelly jumper at the buzzer, to take a 18–11 lead into the second quarter.
After Avyonce Carter’s 3-pointer cut Tech’s deficit to four with 5:35 left in the first half, Todd-Williams’ 3-pointer with 2:22 left pushed it to 10. Another Kelly buzzer-beater, this time a 3-pointer, gave Carolina a 37–28 halftime lead after shooting 51.7%, the best shooting first half of the league season.
UNC made it a rout when it scored nine consecutive points — starting with a Kelly 3-pointer — to go up by 17 points with 5:39 left in the third quarter. UNC took a 57–39 lead into the final quarter.
For seven minutes of the second half, Banghart played three post players with a combination of Anya Poole, Destiny Adams, Alexandra Zelaya and Malu Tshitenge (who played for the second time in an ACC game this season). That meant some guard minutes for Adams and Ustby.
“We went with two bigs more than usual to try to rest these guys a little bit,” Banghart said of Ustby and Adams.
Tonie Morgan led Georgia Tech with 15 points and eight rebounds and Cameron Swartz came off the bench to score 13.
NOTES — Carolina plays one home game between now and Feb. 12. Four of the next five games — and the next two — are on the road, starting with Thursday’s 6 p.m. game at Pittsburgh (7–12, 0–8). The Panthers’ 74–37 loss Sunday at Florida State was their seventh in a row. … The crowd was bigger than for every home game last season except the 5,230 for the Duke game. … Hodgson made both of her free-throw attempts, has made 16 in a row since the Iowa State win and is shooting 86.9% from the line for the season. … Banghart said that there was no update yet on the status of redshirt freshman point guard Kayla McPherson, who has yet to make her college debut, and redshirt senior guard Ariel Young, who hasn’t been in uniform for several games. … UNC celebrated National Girls and Women in Sports Day with a free Sunday afternoon clinic at the Bill Koman Practice Complex. … UNC leads the series with Georgia Tech 61–21 and has won five of the last six, with the loss coming 55–38 in Atlanta last season. … Four Tar Heels scored in double figures for the first time since the Dec. 29 loss to Florida State.
No. 17 UNC 70, Georgia Tech 57
UNC lineup combinations
|No. 9 Duke||10–2||20–3|
|No. 10 Notre Dame||9–3||18–4|
|No. 19 Florida State||9–3||20–5|
|No. 11 Virginia Tech||9–4||19–4|
|No. 14 North Carolina||8–4||17–6|
|No. 22 N.C. State||6–6||16–7|
No. 11 Virginia Tech 73, No. 22 N.C. State 61
Pittsburgh at No. 10 Notre Dame, 6 p.m., ACCN
No. 19 Florida State at Miami, 6 p.m., RSNs
No. 14 North Carolina at Syracuse, 7 p.m., ESPN3
No. 9 Duke at Boston College, 7 p.m., ESPN3
Louisville at Virginia, 7 p.m., ESPN3
No. 22 N.C. State at Wake Forest, 8 p.m., ACCN
Georgia Tech at Clemson, 8 p.m., RSNs
Boston College at No. 14 North Carolina, noon, ACCN
No. 22 N.C. State at Virginia, noon, RSNs
Miami at No. 9 Duke, 2 p.m., RSNs
Pittsburgh at Georgia Tech, 2 p.m., ESPN3
Clemson at Louisville, 2 p.m., ESPN3
Florida State at No. 11 Virginia Tech, 2 p.m., ACCN
Syracuse at No. 10 Notre Dame, 4 p.m., ACCN
|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