Friday featured an afternoon where the North Carolina women’s basketball team returned to strong form as the Tar Heels defeated Howard, 85-63, in Carmichael Arena.
North Carolina (9-5) was able to bounce back from an overtime loss to Auburn and recover from a sloppy performance that included 27 turnovers by dominating Howard (7-6) in the paint and driving to the basket in order to draw fouls.
The Bison got off to a quick start, jumping out to an 11-4 lead over the Tar Heels in the first quarter. However, back-to-back 3-pointers by junior guard Taylor Koenen and redshirt junior guard Stephanie Watts helped UNC gain its momentum.
Including the two 3-pointers, the Tar Heels scored 14 unanswered points and never looked back. With 3:04 remaining in the first quarter, North Carolina took the lead and Howard was unable to grab it again for the rest of the afternoon.
Head coach Sylvia Hatchell shared her thoughts postgame on how UNC was able to set the tone early in the contest.
“We started going inside with it,” Hatchell said. “We started the game off taking bad shots. In the first timeout I said ‘Okay the game has started. We’re playing basketball and we have to pick up the intensity level.’”
North Carolina’s key to victory was an exceptional performance by sophomore center Janelle Bailey. Bailey tied her career high for a game with 30 points and also snagged 14 rebounds.
In that overtime loss to Auburn, Bailey’s performance was just a fraction of what the crowd in Carmichael Arena saw against Howard. Against the Tigers, Bailey only played 23 minutes because she fouled out, finishing that game with just eight points and four rebounds.
Bailey came into the game against Howard on a mission to prove to her teammates, her coach, her fans and herself that she could do better. She did just that, contributing a large portion of North Carolina’s 40 points in the paint.
After the game, Bailey commented on her performance compared to her play against Auburn.
“My teammates got me good passes and saw when I was open,” Bailey said. “I know the last game against Auburn I let my team down. This was a makeup for that because I can’t let that happen.”
In addition to Bailey, Hatchell thought that redshirt sophomore guard Jocelyn Jones stood out Friday afternoon.
“In the first half, when I put Jocelyn in there, she gave us some energy,” Hatchell said. “We were just so lethargic, but Jocelyn went in there and got us some rebounds and did a great job with all of that.”
Another Tar Heel looking to play well was redshirt senior guard Paris Kea. Kea has been integrating herself back into the lineup over the past two games as she returns from an injury.
Kea struggled finding her shot throughout most of the game, finishing just 3 of 14 from the field. However, that third field goal made all the difference. As the ball slowly fell through the net with 1:32 remaining in the fourth quarter, the UNC bench jumped up in joy and a wave of applause spread like wildfire throughout Carmichael Arena.
Kea had just reached a milestone of 1,500 career points with that basket, but she didn’t hold back on criticizing herself when she was asked about hitting 1,500 points.
“I felt like I had one of the worst games of my life tonight,” Kea said. “It’s a great accomplishment, but we’re moving forward.”
The Tar Heels gained momentum with Friday's win and and look to ride that high into their next game as they head to Kentucky to face off against No. 3 Louisville on Thursday at 7 p.m. to begin ACC play.
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