By R.L. Bynum
In many NCAA tournament matchups, neither team is familiar with the other.
On Saturday, former Pittsburgh star Jayla Everett will know No. 20 Carolina and the No. 6-seed Tar Heels will know the talented forward, who led No. 11 seed St. John’s to its first NCAA tournament berth in seven years.
Everett led the Panthers in scoring as a sophomore and a junior and leads the No. 11-seed Red Storm (23–8), averaging 18.0 points per game with 75 3-pointers. She has made 42.6% of her 3-point shots, which is 14th in the country.
What she never could do in her two seasons at Pitt was lead a win over UNC despite big games. Everett scored 22 points on Jan. 24, 2021, in an 81–72 home loss and 18 points in a 64–54 road loss on Feb. 10, 2022.
“Playing against Carolina, it’s always a high-intensity game,” said Everett, a 5–10 fifth-year player who scored 20 points in the Red Storm’s 66–64 First Four victory Thursday over Purdue. “They move really fast in transition, getting up and down the court. Fast-tempo game. I think that we just have to stay composed, not let them speed us up, play within, play together.”
Everett gets a third shot at the Tar Heels (21–10) at 4 p.m. Saturday (ESPN), with the winner playing for a Sweet 16 berth Monday against the winner of the 1:30 p.m. game between No. 12-ranked and No. 3-seed Ohio State (25–7) and No. 14-seed James Madison (26–7).
“We’re very familiar with her and her style of play,” Carolina junior forward Alyssa Ustby said. “She’s a player that can make big shots, and she’s an aggressive attacker, so we have to be mindful on how we come about our defensive plan to make her night pretty tough.”
Carolina coach Courtney Banghart said she was a great player in the ACC and one of the great players in the country with a ton of experience.
“She takes and makes a lot of tough shots,” Banghart said of Everett. “She is a huge focal point of the offense, reminds me a little bit of Jewel Spear at Wake Forest where we had to put so much emphasis on making sure we make her uncomfortable. You make really good players uncomfortable and they still make shots. Just a really gifted offensive player that’s going to require a good defensive effort by us 1 through 11.”
She isn’t the only 3-point threat for the Red Storm, which is 22nd in the country in 3-point shooting percentage at 36.1%. No. 2-ranked and No. 1-seed Indiana is the only Carolina opponent who has shot better (37.1%).
Perimeter defense will be important on Saturday, considering that St. John’s will be the best shooting opponent since Virginia Tech, 42nd in the country at 34.8%, which shot 35.2% (18 of 51) in its two narrow wins over UNC.
“It’s not a one-man band at all,” Banghart said. “I do think our league has prepared us really well. We’ve seen lots of really good players, lots of dynamic threats, lots of deep teams. You hope what we would have been prepared for all year in terms of talent that you’ve played against prepares you well for an opportunity like this.”
Reserve senior guard Unique Drake (making 37.6% of her 3-point shots), reserve fifth-year forward Danielle Patterson (37.0%) and starting redshirt senior guard Kadaja Bailey (36.9%) are all perimeter threats.
The Carolina team watched St. John’s hold on Thursday after blowing a 15-point lead and Kelly came away impressed.
“I think I see just a gritty team that is very physical, tough,” Kelly said. “They like to play fast. They’re trying to make you play outside of your rhythm. That’s kind of what we saw throughout the game. I think, especially in the second half, they were moving really well off each other. They got great contribution from the bench, so I think that was huge for them.”
St. John’s coach Joe Tartamella praised Carolina’s point guard play, saying that the Tar Heels have the talent to play their pace at every position.
“They’ve got a great ability to put pressure on the rim, whether it be attacking the paint with the drive, or how they play from a mid-range game,” Tartamella said. “They certainly have skilled players who can make threes. They do present issues in the pace that they play at times.”
Carolina has won all six meetings, but the programs haven’t played since an 83–73 home win on Dec. 6, 2008. In their only NCAA tournament meeting, an overtime first-round game on March 16, 1984, the Tar Heels won 81–79.
At the Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio
Thursday’s play-in result
St. John’s 66, Purdue 64
Saturday’s first-round results
No. 3-seed Ohio State 80, No. 14 James Madison 66
No. 6 North Carolina 61, No. 11 St. John’s 59
Monday’s second round
Ohio State 71, North Carolina 69
|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. 17 Iowa State||Portland||6–0|
|December||ACC/Big Ten Challenge|
|1||Thursday||L, 87–63||No. 2 Indiana||Bloomington, Ind.||6–1|
|16||Friday||W, 89–47||USC Upstate||Home||9–1|
|20||Tuesday||L, 76–68||No. 18 Michigan||Charlotte||9–2|
|ACC season begins|
|29||Thursday||L, 78–71||Florida State||Home||9–3, 0–1 ACC|
|1||Sunday||L, 68–65||No. 4 |
|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||N.C. State||Home||12–5, |
|19||Thursday||W, 61–56||No. 13 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||L, 75–67||Syracuse||Syracuse||17–7, |
|12||Sunday||W, 73–55||Boston College||Home||18–7, |
|16||Thursday||L, 77–66, OT||N.C. State||Raleigh||18–8, |
|19||Sunday||W, 71–58||Wake Forest||Home||19–8, |
|23||Thursday||L, 61–59||No. 4 |
|26||Sunday||W, 45–41||No. 13 Duke||Durham||20–9, |
|3||Friday||L, 44–40||No. 13 Duke||Greensboro||21–10|
|18||Saturday||W, 61–59||St. John’s||Columbus, Ohio||22–10|
|20||Monday||L, 71–69||No. 12 Ohio State||Columbus, Ohio||22–11|
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications