All new beginnings have rough patches, as well as signs of promise. This was the case for Janelle Bailey and Jaelynn Murray.
The two North Carolina women's basketball first-years made their first career starts in a 84-62 exhibition win against Wingate on Wednesday night in Carmichael Arena. They had their fair share of rough patches, but also showed off why head coach Sylvia Hatchell has put so much faith in them.
“Before the game started, I told them ‘Y’all are the freshmen dynamic duo in the country,’” Hatchell said.
Murray and Bailey could give the Tar Heels a presence down low they lacked last year. While the older guards still dominated most possessions during the game, it is clear the two post players are going to be a major part of UNC's upcoming season.
Bailey, the former No. 39 recruit in the nation, scored most of her 12 points on left-block post-ups. Matching up against the intimidating presence of Wingate’s 6-foot-4 center Marta Miscenko, Bailey had several impressive drives out of the post that resulted in layups.
She used her strong frame to bully her way to the hoop rather than taking fadeaways.
"Just her presence in there makes a big difference,” Hatchell said of Bailey. “We know if you get it in there to her, she’s either going to score or get fouled.”
Bailey’s four fouls stopped her from establishing a rhythm, and at times she struggled with the physicality of older, more developed players on defense.
“When I was in high school, playing overseas, I was basically dominating everybody in the post,” Bailey said. “No. 13 (Miscenko) on the other team was physical with me, and I got a taste of what that’s going to be like.”
Despite her struggles, Bailey’s post play should add an interesting wrinkle to a perimeter-oriented team and allow it to play inside-out in the halfcourt.
Murray also had an encouraging game in spite of her poor scoring. Murray only shot 3-7 from the field for a total of six points, and she also had five turnovers in 26 minutes of play.
“A couple times tonight, you saw Jaelynn take the ball and try to go to the basket ..." Hatchell said. "She tried to do a couple things in high school that she couldn’t do tonight. They took the ball out of her hands when she tried to face up.”
That being said, Murray played solid defense and acted much like a Theo Pinson-type player for much of the game.
She moved the ball around the perimeter well, finishing with two assists, and had two blocks and two steals to help jump start North Carolina’s fastbreak offense. She also frequently picked up Wingate’s lead ball handler and on defense, and was capable switching screens recovering at all spots on defense.
Murray and Bailey only managed to pull in a combined nine rebounds, something that the team as a whole needs to work on. The Tar Heels were outrebounded by the Bulldogs 38 to 26, and Wingate had the advantage on second chance points 16 to 5. In games where shots aren’t falling, North Carolina will need to find a way to crash the boards and get second chance opportunities.
UNC did dominate on the defensive side, though. Wingate had 32 turnovers, and guards Taylor Koenen (four), Paris Kea (five) and Jamie Cherry (five) excelled in the steals department.
It’s clear that there will be growing pains for the two young frontcourt players, especially on the defensive side. UNC's agressive trap can leave them stranded on defense in tough two-on-one or three-on-two halfcourt scrambles. That happened a few times on Wednesday night.
But the signs are there. And for a team that has lacked post players, Bailey and Murray look to do more than just succeed.