The formula was simple, and it was working.
As long as three players scored in double figures, the North Carolina women’s basketball team would win. This pattern had held true — in all 11 of its wins, UNC saw at least three players passing the 10-point mark.
But against undefeated No. 18 Virginia Tech, the formula failed.
In its ACC opener on Monday night, North Carolina fell 76-68 to Virginia Tech despite double-digit scoring nights from guards Destinee Walker (22), Stephanie Watts (18) and Paris Kea (10).
Virginia Tech (14-0, 1-0 ACC) beat UNC (11-3, 0-1 ACC) at its own game of balanced scoring. The Hokies had four players score 10 or more points in a game that North Carolina led for just 19 seconds.
Virginia Tech was led by redshirt sophomore forward Regan Magarity, who put up a monster double-double with 24 points and 17 rebounds. Sophomore guard Chanette Hicks also had a double-double, scoring 10 points and dishing out 10 assists.
Although Hicks shot just over 18 percent from the field, head coach Sylvia Hatchell credited the Virginia Tech point guard for impacting the game in other ways.
“She’s tough,” Hatchell said. “She’s effective. She gets the ball to everybody else. You have to keep her in front of you.”
A sloppy first quarter set the tone for the Tar Heels — the team went 0-for-5 on 3-pointers and had five turnovers. One of those five turnovers was called on junior guard Jamie Cherry as she traveled with the ball after catching a routine, completely uncontested inbounds pass.
North Carolina finished its loss with 17 turnovers. The Tar Heels had also missed all nine of their 3-point attempts at halftime.
Walker broke the drought early in the third quarter, but North Carolina still finished with just six 3-pointers in the game. That team total was four fewer 3-pointers than Watts had by herself against Charleston Southern earlier this season.
UNC’s lack of 3-point shooting wasn’t just the result of an off night. Virginia Tech knew North Carolina thrived on the 3-pointer, and the Hokies did their best to take that shot away from the Tar Heels.
“They were playing a zone around the 3-point area,” Hatchell said. “They kept trying to take away everything on the outside.”
In addition to its stellar perimeter defense, Virginia Tech shot more than twice as many free throws as UNC. The Hokies also had 21 second-chance points off 15 offensive rebounds.
“The second-chance points were big,” Hatchell said. “That was really the difference in the game — that and the foul line.”
There were still a few diamonds in the rough of North Carolina’s third loss of the year. Watts continued her stellar season with a double-double (18 points, 10 rebounds), and Walker had her third 20-point scoring output in four games.
North Carolina also outperformed Virginia Tech in bench scoring, besting the Hokies 12-3 in that category. First-year guard Taylor Koenen — who has become one of UNC’s best off the bench — had eight points and seven rebounds.
UNC had won three straight games against up until tonight. But the Tar Heels couldn’t find a way to counter the Virginia Tech defense that took out UNC’s biggest advantage.
Hatchell knows that the inability to adapt in the ACC opener was partially a result of her team’s inexperience.
She also knows that as the season progresses, so will her team.
“Virginia Tech has a good team. We didn’t take advantage,” she said. “Some of the things they threw at us, our young kids haven’t seen this year."
“But that’s a part of our learning process.”
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