North Carolina slipped two spots to No. 18 in the latest AP Top 25 women’s basketball poll after losing to Virginia Tech in an ACC Tournament quarterfinal game Friday. All but one team below UNC in last week’s poll that played lost at least one game and the two teams ahead of the Tar Heels (23–6) in last week’s poll also lost.
GREENSBORO — Kids can lighten up even the most frustrating days and Coach Courtney Banghart’s three children soothed her and the team after No. 16 Carolina’s unexpected early exit from the ACC Tournament. With one seven-year-old twin son, Eli, on her lap, the other, Tucker, on Alyssa Ustby’s lap and Banghart’s six-year-old daughter Gray on Deja Kelly’s lap, the coach and players talked in the postgame press conference about how Friday’s quarterfinal game with No. 21 Virginia Tech went awry in overtime for an 87–80 quarterfinals loss.
GREENSBORO — The obvious goal for No. 16 North Carolina in Friday’s quarterfinal matchup with No. 21 Virginia Tech is to make it more like their first regular-season game and less like the rematch. The No. 4-seed Tar Heels (23–5) blew out the No. 5-seed Hokies 71–46 on Jan. 6 in Chapel Hill with a potent transition game and suffocating defense. In Blacksburg on Feb. 13, though, hot-shooting Virginia Tech (22–8) won a much-more physical game 66–61.
GREENSBORO — As expected, No. 16-ranked North Carolina will have to deal with No. 21 Virginia Tech and ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.
The No. 5-seed Hokies (22–8), who easily dispatched No. 13-seed Clemson 82–60 in Thursday’s second round, face No. 4-seed UNC (23–5) at 11 a.m. Friday (regional sports networks) after the teams split two regular-season meetings.
At ACC Tipoff in October, North Carolina coach Courtney Banghart told a group of ACC Network announcers before going on the air that people were underestimating the potential of her third Tar Heels team. “I said to the crew that was at the desk, ‘We’re better than y’all think,’ ” Banghart said, figuring that they didn’t know the impact of graduate transfer guards Carlie Littlefield and Eva Hodgson. ” ‘Y’all don’t know Eva and Carlie. Y’all don’t know how much better my sophomores have gotten.’ I did think we were better than the credit we were getting.”
North Carolina sophomore guard Deja Kelly made both 10-team All-ACC women’s teams announced on Tuesday. Kelly, an ACC All-Freshman Team pick a season ago, led the No. 16 Tar Heels (23–5, 13–5 ACC) in scoring and was sixth in the league at 15.8 points per game. She also led the ACC in free-throw percentage at 85.6%.
Coming off two impressive victories to finish the regular season, North Carolina jumped two spots to No. 16 in the latest AP Top 25 women’s basketball poll. It’s the highest ranking for the Tar Heels (23–5, 13–5 ACC), the No. 4 seed in this week’s ACC Tournament in Greensboro, since they were No. 15 for the final four polls of the 2014–15 season. That team finished 26–9 and lost to South Carolina in the Greensboro Regional semifinal.
CHAPEL HILL — The No. 18 North Carolina women left little question that they have the momentum to put together a memorable March by finishing off their first regular-season sweep of Duke in eight years. The Tar Heels were already punishing Duke with their inside attack, so when a few perimeter shots finally fell, it became an impressive 74–46 senior day romp Sunday in front of a raucous, season-high 5,230 fans at Carmichael Arena.
No. 18 North Carolina has some big goals that it can meet in the last week of the regular season and easily kept them possible Thursday night. Beating a feisty Virginia team on its senior night wasn’t easy, tough. The Tar Heels led by 21 in the first half but Virginia fought back and made them earn a physical 68–57 victory. Carolina battled through its worst perimeter shooting night of the season by again being tough on defense and repeatedly beating the Cavaliers in transition.
When star sophomore Carolina guard Deja Kelly signed a big endorsement deal last week, building her brand and making a difference were as important to her as the money, which is the envy of former college athletes who never got this chance. Gone are the days of scholarship athletes pinching pennies because they weren’t allowed to make money off the court, thanks to the NCAA giving them the right to profit from their name, image and likeness (NIL).
As North Carolina continues its breakthrough season in Coach Courtney Banghart’s third year, the comparisons to a Tar Heels team that made the Sweet 16 team seven years ago keep piling up. Another one got added Monday. The Tar Heels (21–5, 11–5 ACC) jumped six spots to No. 18 Monday in the AP Top 25 poll after winning at home against Louisville (23–3, 14–2) 66–65 (which fell one spot to No. 4) and at Florida State 64–49. It’s the highest UNC rank since that 2014–15 team finished the season 26–9 and ranked No. 15.
No matter how ugly it might have been, UNC’s women were happy to battle through it all to finally get a victory over Florida State. It helped that sophomore guard Deja Kelly was pouring in the points, distributing the ball and playing solid defense. The No. 24 Tar Heels didn’t play nearly as well as in their upset Thursday of No. 3 Louisville. But they pulled away with a 16–3 fourth-quarter run for a 64–49 win to snap a six-game losing streak against the Seminoles with their first win in Tallahassee, Fla., since 2014.