UNC rides hot-shooting first half, ousts Clemson to earn third meeting with Duke

By R.L. Bynum

GREENSBORO — Carolina shot itself into a third battle with Duke behind one of the Tar Heels’ best perimeter shooting halves of the season.

Related: It’s good for No. 18 UNC to have the inside-outside combination of Eva Hodgson and Alyssa Ustby back.

After missing all five 3-point attempts in her first two games back, Hodgson made her first three attempts as No. 7-seed UNC (21–9) went 7 of 17 from outside the arc in the first half on its way to a 68–58 second-round victory Thursday over No. 10-seed Clemson.

“We’re finally healthy,” said UNC coach Courtney Banghart, who was without Hodgson for eight games because of an upper-body injury. “I think we needed to get our feet settled here, and this time of the year, you just win one and move along.”

Now it’s on to face a rested No. 2-seed Duke team in a 6 p.m. quarterfinal game Friday, seeking their third win against the No. 13-ranked Blue Devils (24–5) and second in six days.

“I’m a 3-point shooter, and so in the past few games, it’s been a little off. But my teammates really found me, and I was hitting, and it felt great,” said Hodgson, who finished with 13 points, four 3-pointers and four assists. “I’ve been in a lot with one of our assistant coaches, and whether it’s before practice, after practice, even in shootaround and stuff. It’s just getting game-like reps and seeing the ball go in the net.”

Alyssa Ustby, who missed five games with a lower-body injury, looked fine and fit, playing the first 29 minutes of the game. She finished with 15 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals.

Ustby said she didn’t feel winded at all despite playing 34 minutes, the most since she played all 40 of a Jan. 26 game against Pittsburgh. She isn’t worried about the big minutes even with the possibility of four games in four days.

“I know that my body is well-trained for it,” Ustby said. ”And I’m confident that my teammates can provide some minutes and provide some stability. I’m really confident in their abilities.”

The Duke and Clemson wins were huge for Ustby, who was very emotional and frustrated after the heartbreaking 61–59 home loss to Virginia Tech a week earlier.

“I have a lot of expectations for myself and was a little hard on myself coming back from an injury and not performing the way I wanted to perform,” Ustby said. “But, just moving on from that game, I have to trust my teammates in that we’re all in it together, and we collectively take on the burden of the pressure. No pressure is on one single individual.”

The Tar Heels’ attack was balanced, with Deja Kelly scoring 14, Kennedy Todd-Williams 12 (with four of UNC’s seven steals) and Destiny Adams nine (with five rebounds).

“It’s important for us as a team to find Eva on the floor, to get her open shots and easier shots, especially when they’re playing zone,” Kelly said. “That was really our emphasis in practice and prep. So I think I found her on the first one, so I got excited when I saw the ball go in the basket for her, and it was lights out since then. She definitely spreads the floor, opens up the floor for us.”

Carolina didn’t have Ustby or Hodgson for its 69–58 win at Clemson on Jan. 29, and the inside-outside combination they provided was too much for the Tigers to handle.

“They really protected the paint in the middle and didn’t want the ball through the middle,” said Banghart, whose team was only 1 of 6 from 3-point range in the second half. “So, we had a lot of corner 3s and a lot of pass-backs; they totally shifted their game plan. So we had to make some adjustments at halftime because we were sort of expecting their openings to be in a similar way. They really locked up on the perimeter and they wanted us to play through the high post.”

The balance of needing to rest players for a potential four-game run while still advancing is always a challenge. Added to that, Ustby and Kelly dealt with foul trouble.

Clemson went on a 17–5 run during a five-minute stretch with Kelly on the bench to shrink a 14-point lead to seven.

“You try to manage the process of you have to win to advance, but you’d like to have as many guys who can see the floor as possible for two reasons,” Banghart said. “One, is a little bit of rest, but also so people see the floor, so tomorrow is not the first time they’re seeing the floor. For the most part, we did a pretty good job of that. There are some guys who played high minutes, but they want to play every minute, all of them. That’s the beauty of my job.”

Kelly, who came into the game averaging 35.5 minutes, was thankful for the rest. The 28 minutes were her fewest since she played 20 against USC Upstate on Dec. 16.

“It definitely felt good, especially since we know that it’s a long weekend,” Kelly said. “And obviously do what we can to make it through the weekend. Being able to sit 12 minutes? It sounds good.”

Banghart played nine players, with Teonni Key only in for three minutes and post players Alexandra Zelaya and Malu Tshitenge not playing.

Clemson hung tough early before a pair of Hodgson 3-pointers in an 8–0 run pushed UNC to an 18–11 lead with 4:42 left in the first quarter. At that point, she had half of UNC’s points.


UNC led 24–19 after the first quarter and pulled away with a 9–0 run to go up by 12 on an Ustby jumper with 2:36 left in the first half. The Tar Heels led 40–32 at halftime after making 41.2% of their 3-point attempts and shooting 47.1% overall.

Carolina put the game away with a 13–5 run to take a 14-point lead on an Ustby layup with 2:22 left in the third quarter. With Kelly on the bench, UNC turned the ball over on its last three possessions of the quarter as the Tigers finished the period with a 7–0 run to trim the Heels’ lead to 53–46.

Kelly returned and hit a pair of jumpers as Carolina began the final quarter with an 8–4 run to push the lead back to 11 on an Adams layup with 4:41 left.

Amari Robinson led Clemson (17–15) with 27 points.

NOTES — Carolina’s wins over Duke came 61–56 in Chapel Hill on Jan. 19 and 45–41 in Durham on Sunday. … The Tigers beat No. 15-seed Pittsburgh 71–53 in Wednesday’s first round. … Carolina had more first-quarter points against Clemson (24) than it had at halftime Sunday at Duke (16). … UNC got a technical foul in the first quarter after the referees ruled that assistant coach Itoro Coleman ran on the floor while celebrating a basket. … The Tar Heels’ best 3-point-shooting half of the season was 8 of 17 in the first half against Wofford. They also hit 7 of 17 in the second half against Boston College. … Anya Poole was wearing a medical wrap around the lower part of her upper body in the second half after taking a fall. … This was Banghart’s first ACC tournament win in four tries and UNC’s first since 2019. …. UNC plays its sixth consecutive game in the state of North Carolina on Friday. … Carolina is 64-36 in ACC Tournament play.

No. 18 UNC 68, Clemson 58

UNC lineup combinations

24–19End 1KellyPoole3–0
53–46End 3McPherson0–0

ACC Tournament

Greensboro Coliseum
Final on ESPN; all other games on ACC Network
Wednesday’s first round
No. 12-seed Wake Forest 68, vs. No. 13-seed Virginia (15–15) 57
No. 10 Clemson 71, No. 15 Pittsburgh (10–20) 53
No. 11 Boston College 62, No. 14 Georgia Tech (13–16) 57
Thursday’s second round
Wake Forest 65, No. 5 Florida State (23–9) 54
No. 8 N.C. State 83, No. 9 Syracuse (18–12) 58
No. 7 North Carolina 68, vs. Clemson (17–14) 58
No. 6 Miami 84, vs. Boston College (16–16) 69
Friday’s quarterfinals
No. 4 Louisville 74, Wake Forest (16–16) 48
No. 1 Notre Dame 66, N.C. State (20–11) 60
No. 2 Duke 44, North Carolina (21–10) 40
No. 3 Virginia Tech 68, Miami (19–11) 42
Saturday’s semifinals
Louisville 64, Notre Dame (25–5) 38
Virginia Tech 58, Duke (25–6) 37
Sunday’s final
Virginia Tech (26–4) 75, Louisville (23–11) 67

(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 the ACC


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