The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday September 29th

New culture helps UNC women's basketball to best start in years

The UNC women's basketball team cheers from the sideline. The Tar Heels beat the Buccaneers 85-54 on Friday, Nov, 15, 2019 at Carmichael Arena.
Buy Photos The UNC women's basketball team cheering from the sidelines during a Nov. 15 game against Charleston Southern.

Maybe it’s the fact that first-year head coach Courtney Banghart doubles as a cheerleader on the bench. Or that players celebrate just as hard when teammates score as when they do themselves. Or that all five starters are averaging double figures in points. 

Whatever it is, it’s working. 

The UNC women’s basketball team is winning — its 92-53 home rout of N.C. Central on Sunday marks its fifth victory by 30 points or more this season — and having fun while doing so. The team's 8-0 start this year is its best since 2014-15, when the Tar Heels won nine consecutive games to begin the season. 

“Everybody celebrates everybody,” senior guard Shayla Bennett said. “It’s not just we celebrate one person or the other. If one person scores, basically the whole team scores.” 

And, usually, it’s Banghart who’s the first to bring that energy.


Last week, she hit the “mop” dance in the locker room after UNC beat Illinois. Then, on Sunday, she provided her team with some “choice words” at halftime when she felt it had come out flat. 

“I felt that we were too business-like,” Banghart said. “And perhaps a little bit more like islands, and I wanted us to be a little more cohesive.” 

Though the Tar Heels found themselves up 15 points at the break, they were getting out-hustled. The undersized Eagles led the rebounding battle, 18-17.

Bennett, who finished with 16 points and five assists, admitted she and her teammates underestimated their opponent. 

But Banghart’s message proved effective. UNC used a 27-13 third quarter to put NCCU away for good. It didn’t take long for the Tar Heels to get back to having fun, either.

Junior center Janelle Bailey had six points in the third frame, and UNC’s four other starters added 13 points in the same period. Even the bench got in on the action. 

When redshirt junior forward Emily Sullivan — a reserve who averages 1.8 points and 2.6 rebounds — grabbed one of her nine rebounds of the game with 1:02 left until the fourth quarter, Banghart was animated. As Sullivan corralled the missed free throw from first-year guard Lexi Duckett, Banghart jumped out of her seat, cheering and clapping louder than anyone in the arena.

“I think it’s more fun now,” said Bailey, who finished with a game-high 19 points and 12 rebounds. “... Coach gets on us every day, but we find something fun in playing.” 

On Sunday, it seemed as if everyone on the team had found that enjoyment. 

Duckett and fellow first-year guard Kennady Tucker scored six points each, first-year guard Nia Daniel had four and Sullivan ended the afternoon with nine. 

But the moment that best characterized the mood surrounding the program didn’t come until there were only seven seconds left in the game. 

That’s when senior guard Liz Roberts drove to the basket and was fouled. Roberts, a walk-on for three years before being awarded a scholarship this season, knocked down the second of two free throw attempts.

Her teammates went wild, of course. They jumped up and down, roaring as they waved towels.

“It doesn’t matter who scored or what happened, she’s always the first one up on the bench,” Bennett said of Roberts. “... How she impacts us, we want to impact her the same way.”

When the final buzzer sounded, every Tar Heel player ran toward Roberts, mobbing her in celebration.

“My job is to ensure they have a great college basketball experience, through the good and the bad,” Banghart said. “And we work on that every day.” 

@pupadhyaya_

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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