Ustby suggests in post that she’ll play this week

By R.L. Bynum

UNC coach Courtney Banghart said after the No. 22 Tar Heels’ win Sunday over Wake Forest that Alyssa Ustby was “day to day, even minute to minute, maybe,” suggesting that the junior wing was nearing a return.

Ustby posted a powerful suggestion on Instagram on Monday night —  a photo of her in uniform and the words “tell a friend to tell a friend …” Officially, she still is listed as day-to-day, but her post seems to indicate that she will play this week.

Carolina (19–8, 10–6 ACC) enters a big week, facing No. 9 Virginia Tech (22–4, 12–4) at home on senior night Thursday at 8 o’clock (regional sports networks) and visiting No. 11 and co-ACC leader Duke (23–4, 13–3) at noon Sunday (regional sports networks). Two victories would put the Tar Heels in good shape to earn at least a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament, which would mean that they would host games in the first two rounds at Carmichael Arena.

UNC played well against Wake Forest without Ustby, who has been out with a lower-body injury, but her addition will be a huge boost for the Tar Heels, who have also been without fifth-year guard Eva Hodgson (upper-body injury) for the last eight games.

“Again, there’s going to be a bit of a disruption because even though it’s an addition of a kid we’re used to, that’s another shift for these guys,” Banghart said after the Wake Forest game. “It’s knowing that what Alyssa brings is really consistent. We know what we already get from her. And these guys have enough experience to play through it.”

Ustby only played two games with redshirt freshman Kayla McPherson before getting hurt. In her absence, junior Alexandra Zelaya has played 60 minutes in the last three games after playing 176 in the previous 23. Teonni Key has played double-digit minutes in five of the last six games, including 19 against Boston College.

“It gives us more depth, gives these guys more of a reason to give their all,” Banghart said.


Without Ustby’s rebounding clout, it hasn’t always been easy.

“Our rebounding had better be better with her back,” Banghart said. “Honestly, we got a little lazy. I think we were like. ‘well, Alyssa gets them anyway.’ I think our rebounding is much better now. When she’s back, she’s still gonna try to get them all. But these guys are gonna take care of their matchup better.”

UNC is 2–3 in the five games that Ustby has missed, winning home games against Boston College (73–55) and the Deacons (71–58). The Heels have lost all three road games without her, though, against Louisville (62–55), Syracuse (75–67) and N.C. State (77–66 in overtime).

Ustby leads the team in rebounding at 8.9 per game and, despite missing five games, still has 37 more rebounds than any of her teammates. She averages 13.6 points per game while shooting 52.4% from the floor with 53 assists, 28 blocks and 44 steals in 22 games.

On Tuesday, Carolina officially announced that redshirt senior guard Ariel Young is out for the season with a knee injury, meaning that her college career is over. She played 12 minutes over three games after missing all of last season with a knee injury.

“Ariel has worked so hard to get back on the court and sadly it just isn’t going to happen,” Banghart said. “When you’ve played basketball your whole life it’s so difficult to see it end and, as a coach, it’s excruciating to watch that happen for one of your players. Ariel will absolutely remain just as big a part of our team, and she is adored as she settles into this new role.”

Young, who began her career at Michigan before transferring to Carolina in January 2020, will be honored on senior night Thursday along with Malu Tshitenge and Hodgson.

UNC statistics

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


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