Eight is enough for No. 14 UNC, thanks to McPherson’s career game, 11 3s, tough defense

By R.L. Bynum

CHAPEL HILL — No. 14 North Carolina’s numbers Sunday were daunting: three of eight available players were freshmen, three regular starters were out, and three Tar Heels were making their first career starts.

It was easy to overcome all that against one of the worst teams in the ACC since one of those freshmen was guard Kayla McPherson, and UNC made an ACC-season-high 11 3-pointers.

In only her fifth game, McPherson scored season-highs of 22 points and four 3-pointers as the Tar Heels led by as many as 28 points and coasted to a 73–55 Play4Kay victory over Boston College at Carmichael Arena to end a two-game skid.

It may not be so easy on Thursday night at N.C. State, but UNC (18–7, 9–5) can only hope that the injury list gets shorter by then. 

The leadership of juniors Kennedy Todd-Williams (16 points, nine rebounds, two assists and two steals) and Deja Kelly (12 points, two assists and three steals) has guided Carolina through this tough stretch.

“They just did a really good job for us,” UNC coach Courtney Banghart said of McPherson, junior center Alexandra Zelaya and redshirt freshman Teonni Key making their first college starts. “And then what Toddy and Deja have been able to do with the varying lineups and who’s in and who’s out and all that with this injury thing over the last month? They’ve just handled it really remarkably. They are having to shoulder so much mentally, physically, emotionally.”

Junior center Anya Poole (who started the first 24 games) became the fourth Tar Heel on the injury list. She joined fifth-year guard Eva Hodgson (upper-body injury), junior wing Alyssa Ustby (lower-body injury) and senior reserve guard Ariel Young (knee). Poole injured her shoulder falling hard to the floor in the third quarter of Thursday’s loss at Syracuse.

Hodgson (who has missed the last six games) is expected back by March, and the statuses of Ustby (who has missed the last three games) and Poole for the N.C. State game aren’t clear.

Banghart hopes to have Ustby and Poole back by Thursday but said it would depend on whether they hit specific numbers on physical tests of strength and explosiveness.

“They know that whoever’s cleared —  if this is all we have currently —  then that will have to be enough,” Banghart said. “We’ll need our young guys to play really well in a hostile environment, and I can’t guarantee they’ll do that. But I can guarantee that they’ll be a little bit better than they were against Syracuse.”

Banghart said she won’t risk their careers by bringing them back too soon.

“Sometimes they don’t understand,” Banghart said. “They think they’re ready, but we have plenty of scientific tests that determine if their bodies are as ready as their minds are.”

McPherson left the game midway through the third quarter holding her shoulder but returned after a few minutes. In the postgame press conference, after McPherson said she was fine, Banghart added, “She has to be.”

There are still occasional young mistakes, but McPherson keeps getting better and more confident and has quickly developed good chemistry with her teammates. She had practiced with her teammates long before her career debut, and McPherson said that has made it easier.

“That was one thing for me that I didn’t have a problem with was chemistry,” said McPherson, who also had a season-high six rebounds and scored 16 of her points in the first half. “We’ve been around each other; I know how Deja plays. It really just kind of comes naturally the more times we’re on the court together.” 

While McPherson gives Carolina a big boost, Banghart has shortened the playbook because McPherson doesn’t know all of it yet.

Going 11 of 27 from 3-point range, with Paulina Paris (nine points) scoring three and Todd-Williams two, helped create space for the Tar Heels’ offense.

“When people are making shots like K-Mac, we just find them,” Todd-Williams said. “We share the ball whenever someone’s getting hot, and then it opens up lanes for everybody else. I think I was able to attack and DK was able to attack and hit the post players. It just opens up so many options for us to have, and everyone was stepping out this game. It was much-needed.”

Banghart bemoaned that Carolina’s young players weren’t playing with a sense of urgency in Thursday’s 75–67 loss at Syracuse, but she saw just the opposite against BC.

“I think they feel comfortable at home,” Banghart said. “You’re going to have to take this as experience and confidence and go into uncomfortable environments on the road and generate their own activity. It’s on the road that this young group isn’t able to generate as much urgency as we need.”

With low roster numbers, UNC forced some ugly numbers from Boston College (14–14, 4–11): 25 turnovers, 20 fouls and only 18 field goals. The Eagles wilted against the Tar Heels’ relentless defense that produced 13 steals. Zelaya had a career-highs with five assists and two steals to go with three points and four rebounds in a career-high of nearly 29 minutes.

Key matched her career-high with seven rebounds.

Banghart said that the key for Carolina was more activity on defense. Carolina’s post players held Boston College center Maria Gakdeng, averaging 11.2 points before Sunday, to three points and 1 of 8 shooting.

“In our man, we were great on ball screens; we were great in gaps,” Banghart said. “We were vocal on our switches, just a much better defensive effort. We’ve got good defenders — it’s committing to how to defend together. We were much better on that and much better on the glass.”

Coming off the bench for the first time in three games, Destiny Adams used her length to create all kinds of havoc on defense, with a career-high six steals and pulled down eight rebounds.

Todd-Williams said the activity at both ends and moving with the ball offensively were the big reason Carolina could adjust to playing with rarely seen lineups.

“It goes back to our team and how many weapons we have because we’re all we’ve got at this point,” Todd-Williams said.

McPherson scored seven consecutive points, including a 3-pointer, as UNC jumped out to a 10–5 lead in the first five minutes. She had 10 before coming out seven minutes into the game and Carolina finished the opening quarter with a 16–3 run to take a 19–8 lead on a Kelly drive with six seconds left.


That was the fifth consecutive single-digit-scoring quarter for the Eagles, who lost at home Thursday to No. 9 Duke 68–27.

A 12–3 run, with half the points from McPherson, pushed the Heels’ lead to 19 with 5:46 left. After the game’s first four minutes, it wasn’t until Taina Mair’s layup with 3:43 left in the first half that Boston College had as many points (16) as McPherson.

Carolina took a 37–20 lead into halftime with an 11–4 run.

Four Tar Heels — Zelaya, Todd-Williams, Kelly and Paris —scored 3-pointers on a 14–3 run to balloon the lead to 26 points with 4:24 left in the third quarter. BC cut its deficit to 65–50 by scoring the last 13 points of the third quarter. But Carolina scored the first 11 fourth-quarter points to push the lead to 28.

NOTES — Carolina heads to Raleigh for a huge showdown with N.C. State at 8 p.m. Thursday (ACC Network). The Wolfpack (17–7, 7–6), which lost 71–59 at Virginia on Sunday for its third loss in four games, lost at UNC 56–47 on Jan. 15. … The 18-point win was UNC’s largest in ACC play. … Carolina’s highest 3-pointers total was 12 against Wofford. … Boston College was without leading scorer Dontavia Waggoner, who was wearing a walking boot on her right foot and hasn’t played since Jan. 22. … Carolina’s women continued the big perimeter shooting weekend on campus after the men’s team scored 15 in Saturday’s 91–71 home win over Clemson. … Carolina beat Boston College for the fourth time in the last five meetings, and leads the series 16–4.

No. 14 UNC 73, BC 55

UNC lineup combinations

54–37End 3rdMcPhersonT-W11–0

ACC standings

No. 10 Notre Dame15–324–4
No. 11 Duke14–424–5
No. 9 Virginia Tech14–424–4
No. 23 Florida State12–623–8
No. 22 North Carolina11–720–9
N.C. State9–919–10
Boston College5–1315–16
Wake Forest5–1314–15
Georgia Tech4–1413–16

Thursday’s results
No. 9 Virginia Tech 61, No. 22 North Carolina 59
No. 10 Notre Dame 76, Georgia Tech 53
No. 23 Florida State 61, Wake Forest 60
Syracuse 85, Pittsburgh 55
Louisville 71, Miami 50
Clemson 79, Virginia 69
No. 11 Duke 77, N.C. State 62
Sunday’s results
No. 22 North Carolina 45, No. 11 Duke 41
No. 10 Notre Dame 68, Louisville, noon, ESPN3
Miami 84, Virginia 75
Boston College 73, Wake Forest 63
Clemson 74, No. 23 Florida State 61
N.C. State 68, Pittsburgh at 63
No. 9 Virginia Tech 65, Georgia Tech 52
End of regular season

(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


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s