After falling to rival N.C. State on Sunday, the North Carolina women’s basketball team had all hands on deck against Virginia in a Thursday night showdown at Carmichael Arena.
Fighting off a fourth quarter comeback attempt, a collective effort from the Tar Heels assured the team a 78-68 victory over the Cavaliers — and their sixth ACC win of the season.
It’s a trend that has appeared all season for a team that has yet to lose consecutive games: relentless effort in the face of adversity.
“Basketball is plenty of ups and downs, plenty of wins and losses,” junior center Janelle Bailey said. “The N.C. State game was a lesson for us, and in a way a blessing, because look at the start we had tonight.”
The equal-opportunity offense that North Carolina has had early in the season continued into ACC play, and the offensive unit was clicking against Virginia early on. UNC went on a dominant run throughout the first half, resulting in a 43-21 lead that saw scoring from six different players.
“Our guys really came out strong,” head coach Courtney Banghart said. “Moving the ball well on offense, and operating on all cylinders. Sometimes you don’t really want halftime, and this was one of those games.”
Following the break, though, the Cavaliers came out fighting. At one point, UVA held the Tar Heels scoreless for over five minutes, until junior guard Leah Church finally stopped the bleeding by sinking two free throws.
Despite a less fluid offense in the second half, North Carolina’s emphasis on effort and ball distribution did not relent. UNC took an 18-point lead into the fourth quarter and the Cavaliers never got it to single digits. Bailey in particular was a driving force, putting up a game-high 23 points to go along with a season-high 17 rebounds.
“Fortunately, Janelle was just a grown woman out there in the second half,” Banghart said. “We were able to play through her a little bit.”
She was joined in the post by first-year Malu Tshitenge, who finished with an impressive 16 points and five rebounds of her own. Redshirt senior guard Madinah Muhammad added 17.
The season has been defined by a diverse offensive attack, with all five of North Carolina’s starters regularly reaching double digits in the scoring column. Even with the team’s second leading scorer Taylor Koenen finishing with just six points on Thursday, well below her average of 14, the Tar Heels still worked their way to a 78-point outing.
“It’s hard when you have five people consistently scoring,” Bailey said. “It’s just hard to stop that.”
With North Carolina now past the midway point of ACC play, the team-first mentality that was on display against Virginia has been key for the team in bouncing back after recent losses against No. 5 Louisville and the No. 9 Wolfpack.
With no top 25 opponents looming on their regular season schedule, the Tar Heels will look to continue their success through the eight games remaining before the ACC tournament. But they know that nothing comes easy in the ACC this year.
“In this league you can’t really hang your head,” Muhammad said. “You just got to be prepared to battle every night.”
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