Even before the opening tip, it was clear that the North Carolina women’s basketball team already held a significant advantage over its opponent: size.
With Navy’s tallest player that stepped on the court only reaching an even six feet, the Tar Heels towered over the Midshipmen at nearly every position. North Carolina has seven players on its roster that are at least as tall as Navy’s largest player that saw minutes.
Needless to say, UNC used this height difference to its advantage early and often in a convincing 80-40 win on Monday.
The inside-out play from senior guard Taylor Koenen and 6-foot-4 junior forward Janelle Bailey served as a perfect illustration of this strategy. Overpowering the Midshipmen in the post opened up shots on the wings and propelled North Carolina to its second win of the season.
In this Veterans Day matchup, it was the veteran play of those two Tar Heels that helped lead UNC to victory.
“These are two kids that all they care about is winning. They’re a huge piece of what we’re doing,” Courtney Banghart, the team's new head coach, said. “We felt like if the ball started in Taylor's hands and ended in Janelle's hands, we’d be in good shape.”
The Tar Heels followed that game plan to a tee. With Koenen running the show, North Carolina was able to work the ball inside to Bailey and the other forwards, in turn opening up shots on the outside.
As a 6-foot-2 guard, Koenen stood two inches taller than the Midshipmen’s tallest player in Monday night's game, giving her an advantage anywhere on the court. The senior used her height at every level: posting up, shooting midrange jump shots over defenders and utilizing a high release from beyond the three-point line.
“Scoring at all three levels, it’s hard to guard someone like that,” Koenen said.
Koenen seemed to score effortlessly throughout the game. By the end of the third quarter, she had tied her career high for points with 21, but said she wasn’t concerned with the stats.
“I actually didn’t know how many points I had. It’s never about that,” Koenen said. “My teammates just did a really good job finding me. And like Coach said, we knew the game plan. It was all about getting the W.”
Koenen acknowledged the impact UNC's size advantage had on the Tar Heels' success in the game, both on her personal performance and the performance of her teammates.
“I think it was huge,” Koenen said. “We looked inside to Janelle and Malu (Tshitenge), and we also posted me up. By doing that, it then opened it up for the guards to shoot threes, which we're very good at too. I think we did a really good job playing the high-low.”
Bailey had another monster outing in her second game of the season, posting her second double-double in a row with 20 points and 15 rebounds.
As one of only two returning players that averaged double-digit points last year, Bailey knows that she’s going to have to step up even more if the Tar Heels are going to succeed this season.
Similarly to Koenen, though, she said she wasn't concerned with her personal numbers.
“I know it’s what my team needs me to do, so I just have to keep going,” Bailey said. “I try not to probe in so much on the points. We weren’t really good with rebounding last year, so that’s really my main focus. I feel like the scoring will come. Even if it’s not from me, we have so many people who can get the job done.”
A lot of the responsibility will fall on Bailey as a leader and producer for the team, but her confidence hasn't wavered in her new role so far.
“No pressure,” Bailey said. “No pressure at all.”
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