GREENSBORO– A day after helping the North Carolina women’s basketball team as an extra coach during its game against Georgia Tech, Janelle Bailey returned to the court on Friday and this time contributed in ways that show up in the box score.
Following a one-game suspension for getting ejected in a 62-44 loss to Duke on Sunday, Bailey posted a double-double (19 points, 10 rebounds) in No. 8 seed UNC’s 95-77 loss to No. 1 seed Notre Dame in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament.
UNC (18-14, 8-8 ACC) trailed the Fighting Irish (28-3, 14-2 ACC) by double digits for the final 18-plus minutes and struggled to find any answers defensively in its bid for a second upset victory over Notre Dame this season.
But the sophomore center’s good showing in her first game back following the suspension was a bright spot for UNC on what was a good day offensively for the Tar Heels, who shot 49.2 percent.
“Bailey, (Shayla Bennett) and Paris (Kea) all had really good shooting,” UNC head coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “We shot right at 50 percent. That’s pretty good against Notre Dame.”
With the Tar Heels expected to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years, Bailey showed how dangerous the UNC offense can be moving forward when she’s on her game.
“I think I made a statement,” said Bailey, who’s second in scoring on UNC with 16.7 points per game.
A physical, 6-foot-4 post player who does most of her damage with her back to the basket in the paint, Bailey showed early on that she has some versatility to her game.
The Charlotte native scored 10 of UNC’s first 22 points, with three of her first four baskets coming on mid-range jump shots that Notre Dame was content to give up.
As the game progressed, Bailey made most of her impact closer to the rim, but the ability to score farther away from the basket is something she’s attempting to add to her repertoire.
“It’s just going to come with time and confidence,” Bailey said. “That’s the biggest thing to me – I play with confidence. It’s going to come and stretch out my range even more as time goes on. But yeah, that was what they gave me, so I took it.”
Even though UNC as a whole struggled to cope with Notre Dame’s elite frontcourt duo of forwards Brianna Turner and Jessica Shepard, Bailey held her own. Friday’s game marked the 13th time she grabbed 10-plus rebounds this season, and Bailey was efficient, connecting on 8 of 13 shots from the field. The majority of those makes came with Turner, the 2019 ACC Defensive Player of the Year, guarding her.
After not having Bailey against Georgia Tech, Kea was glad to see the second team All-ACC selection back on the court because of what it meant for her own ability to succeed.
“When she’s in the game, she can stretch the floor for us,” said Kea, who led the Tar Heels with 27 points. “Turner had to come out and guard her. Whoever was guarding her, the lane was basically open for me.”
When UNC took on Georgia Tech, Bailey made sure to do everything she could from the bench, serving as a rebounder for her teammates during pregame warmups before constantly offering input throughout the game to redshirt sophomore post player Jocelyn Jones and Jaelynn Murray.
“They all stepped up in a time of need when I was down and they picked me up,” Bailey said.
Against the Blue Devils, Bailey was ejected after a scuffle with Duke’s Jade Williams, who battled for a rebound with UNC sophomore guard Leah Church.
For Bailey, missing Thursday’s game hurt because of how it impacted her teammates.
Her return to the floor against Notre Dame meant Bailey was able to get her feet wet before the NCAA tournament begins in two weeks. Had UNC lost to Georgia Tech, Bailey would have been looking at an unideal 19-20 day break between games.
But beyond that, she was thankful for the opportunity to help her team again.
“It was important for me to play today just to get back out there,” Bailey said. “It’s been a rough … I guess week for me personally. But I try to stay up.”
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