The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday August 16th

Watts scores 28 points against Carson-Newman in first game back from injury

Maybe it’s time for a comeback.

After missing the entirety of the 2017-18 season with a knee injury, redshirt junior Stephanie Watts played her first game in over a year for the North Carolina women’s basketball team against Carson-Newman on Thursday night in Carmichael Arena.

Watts made the most of her homecoming to the hardwood, as she scored 28 points on 11-for-17 shooting, including five 3-pointers in the second half, leading her team to a 115-74 victory. In addition to her scoring output, Watts padded her stats in other categories, finishing the contest with six rebounds and six assists — cementing a memorable return to form for the 2016 ACC Freshman of the Year.

“I’m just glad to be back out here with my team and playing with such great players, rather than watching from the bench,” Watts said.

Watts exploded in the beginning of the second half, knocking down four shots from behind the arc in the opening three minutes of the third quarter, extending UNC’s lead to the point of no return.

“She got hot out there,” UNC head coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “If the score hadn’t have been what it had been and I’d let everybody play, she probably would made another five or six (3-pointers).”

Since being allowed to practice with the team again, Hatchell says that Watts has been a gym rat, shooting countless jump shots per day to perfect her craft.

“She’s in here shooting all the time,” Hatchell said. “I know when I come (into the gym), either Stephanie, Taylor Koenen or Leah Church is probably going to be in here shooting — pretty much 24/7, so it shows and it pays off.”

During her long absence, Watts learned from her coaches and teammates from the sidelines.

“I think my biggest thing is probably just decision-making,” Watts said. “Watching our team going up and down the court, you actually get to watch different mistakes being made that the coaches talk about. You’re seeing the coaches tell different players, different things, and it’s really helpful information, so I just kind of absorbed every little thing the coaches tell me and go from there, and I was able to learn from watching rather than playing.” 

Her teammates credited her ability to battle back from her injury in order to make the return to form this season.

“I know it was a tough time for her when she had to go through that,” Koenen said. “But she persevered through that and now she’s shining, so that’s all you can ever ask, right?”

Watts has gone through a lot to get to this point in her career and Koenen noted the effort the redshirt junior put in while away to keep working hard.

“I think she stayed hungry,” Koenen said. “I mean she came in — she was (ACC Freshman of the Year) and she wanted more. She didn’t settle. She always had that in the back of her mind. Even on tough days, when her knee hurt, she would still go do her rehab or she would ball handle if she couldn’t move her knee.”

“I think that she made the most of what she could do.”

@keberly1996

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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