Right before the UNC women's basketball team tipped off against Yale on Saturday,
junior center Janelle Bailey was honored in front of a home crowd in Carmichael Arena for reaching 1,000 career points in the team's 2018-19 season finale loss to California in the NCAA tournament.
"It was cool," Bailey said. "During it, I was kind of looking back on it and just thinking about how tough of a time myself and my teammates have been through and I was still able to do that. We were still able to stick together, and I still had great teammates that wanted to get me the ball."
But, by the end of North Carolina's matchup with the Bulldogs, Bailey wished she had saved four of those points for the Tar Heels' 66-63 loss.
Like the rest of the starting lineup, Bailey struggled to knock down shots early. Heading into Saturday, all five of UNC's starters had double-digit scoring averages for the season, but those same starters combined to shoot 3-20 from the field in the first quarter.
Bailey saw plenty of good looks in the post, but was simply unable to finish — shooting 1-6 in the opening period.
"It just wasn’t falling," Bailey said. "I listened to my coaches when they were like, ‘Stop rushing,’ and I was thinking 'am I really rushing, or is it just not my day?' One time, (Madinah Muhammad) passed it to me and it literally went in the basket and came out."
The frustration was mounting for North Carolina as it faced a 21-9 deficit to open the second quarter.
Then, Bailey and senior guard Shayla Bennett took over.
The duo utilized plenty of pick-and-roll action to dominate the second quarter. The Tar Heels headed for the locker room down just one basket, 30-28, while Bennett and Bailey combined for 22 first-half points.
"(Yale) demonstrated that they struggled to guard, especially in transition, that slot ball screen," head coach Courtney Banghart said. "So we wanted to really go with that. When Shayla is playing as hard as she’s playing, guarding their best player and playing over 94 feet for 38 minutes, she got tired. It was harder to be aggressive out of that action, but we really got a lot out of that.”
North Carolina continued to run the ball through Bailey and Bennett for as long as possible. The pair excelled in the third quarter behind Bailey's six points and five rebounds and Bennett's eight points in the period. Bailey would go on to finish with 16 points and a season-high 16 rebounds, while Bennett dropped 25 points, tying her career-high.
"I think it was either the second quarter or the third quarter," Bailey said. "And (Bennett) was telling everybody let’s go and she called my name — I had heard her, I was shaking my head — but she really looked at me with kind of a stare and was like, 'Let’s go, we can do this.'"
However, the combo's magic ran out in the fourth quarter, and UNC fell back into its shooting struggles.
Despite shooting over 82 percent from the free throw line in her first 10 games of the season, Bailey missed two crucial free throws in the final 30 seconds with North Carolina down, 62-60. Bennett had four turnovers in the final period, three of which came in the final 3:03 of play and was so exhausted after the game that she was unable to attend Saturday's press conference.
Even after such a narrow loss in an intense game, Banghart saw promise from her team as the Tar Heels prepare for conference play.
"We stuck together," Banghart said. "There was optimism, there was support of one another. I'd come into the huddle and they're talking to each other about, ‘Come on guys, stick with it,’ – that means a team is growing. The non-conference is supposed to do that, make sure you're ready. We have a stretch in January when we play four top-25 teams in a row. We know what's coming."
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