A dominant third quarter gave North Carolina the separation it needed.
The Tar Heels outscored the Phoenix 28-18, often by lobbing long outlet passes to create quick and uncontested buckets. The emphasis on transition opportunities, along with the Tar Heels tightening up on the defensive end and limiting fouls, helped seal the game.
The victory moved the Tar Heels to 39-6 all time in season openers.
Who stood out?
Junior guard Shayla Bennett, a transfer for Gulf Coast State, was crucial in orchestrating the Tar Heel offense, controlling tempo and setting up teammates inside and out. Bennett had a game-high 19 points on 3-6 shooting from deep, and had 7 assists in her first game in baby blue.
Kea’s diverse offensive game was on full display throughout, getting buckets inside and out, off the dribble and catching and shooting from deep. She finished with 17 points on 6-12 shooting.
Sophomore center Janelle Bailey also continues to impress after a standout first-year season, dictating the paint on both ends and cleaning up on the glass. Bailey posted 13 points to go along with 7 rebounds.
When was it decided?
An extended period of UNC dominance -- stretching from the beginning second quarter until the end of the third, when the Tar Heels led 68-47 -- gave the team the separation they needed to effectively decide the game.
In that stretch, North Carolina was able to exert its dominance on the glass -- it finished with 42 rebounds to Elon’s 33, after trailing on the boards in the first half -- and tighten up its penetration defense. From then, the Tar Heels were never threatened, and were able to nab their first victory in the season’s first game.
Why does it matter?
Tar Heel fans will be relieved to hear that redshirt junior Stephanie Watts was the the picture of health in her first game back from injury. Watts, who was the ACC Freshman of the Year in 2015-16, was omnipresent on both ends, finishing with 16 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals. She will be a crucial cog if this team looks to make noise come March.
After an injury-plagued and underwhelming 15-16 record last year, this team looks so far to be a tough out in the always-formidable ACC.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will look to keep the good times rolling on Friday at 6 p.m., when they will face off against Kent State in their home opener.
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