Sunday was simply a great day for North Carolina basketball. While the men’s basketball team took care of business against N.C. State in the Smith Center, the women’s basketball team seized its first conference victory of the season in Carmichael arena.
In one of its best games of the season, North Carolina (12-4, 1-2 ACC) defeated Virginia (11-5, 0-3 ACC) in what was a closer game than the 67-58 final margin suggested.
Several factors contributed to the Tar Heels' success, but interestingly, perimeter shooting was not one of them. Coming into the game, UNC ranked second in the ACC in 3-point field goals per game (8.5). This directed Virginia towards a simple defensive plan: run North Carolina off the 3-point line.
Virginia began in a 2-1-2 half-court trap, spacing four defenders on the arc. The Cavaliers then transitioned to a 3-2 zone, which ultimately gave five Cavalier defenders the responsibility to guard the three.
For the most part, these measures worked. At the end of the first half, the Tar Heels shot 3-for-15 (20 percent) from behind the arc, and they ended the game 6-for-27 (22.2 percent) from three. For a team that relies on the outside shot for offense, that is a losing recipe.
But Virginia’s defense opened up other opportunities for UNC.
For one, North Carolina captured 14 offensive rebounds after the team’s long misses because the middle was wide open. They outscored the Cavaliers 13-7 in points off offensive rebounds.
In fact, the Tar Heels won the rebounding battle for the game 41-40. Guards Stephanie Watts and Paris Kea notched 10 rebounds apiece. This is all the more significant because North Carolina came into the game as the worst rebounding team in the ACC, boasting an average rebounding margin of -1.1.
North Carolina exploited the open spots in the middle of the Cavalier zone. Kea — who was one point away from obtaining the first ever triple double in North Carolina women’s basketball history (9 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) — was a huge reason why.