DURHAM — Courtney Banghart stood at the front of the bench with her left hand up at her face and her index finger resting beside her mouth.
Every so often, the North Carolina women’s basketball head coach would bring her hands down and cross her arms. Banghart’s eyebrows would stitch together as she rocked the heel of her left pump.
It was evident Banghart was perplexed. Wouldn’t you be? After two ACC wins over Clemson and Virginia at home, there was an expectation that UNC would be able to perform well in Cameron Indoor Stadium, fueled by the fact that Duke fell to Clemson a few weeks prior.
But it didn't happen.
The Tar Heels lost to the Blue Devils, 71-61, in the 100th battle between the two teams, leaving the rivalry's overall record at 50-50. The nail in the coffin for UNC was the fact that the team shot a season-low 27.1 percent from the field, only making 19 of its 70 shots.
“I know there were a lot of people that were excited about that matchup, and I’m sorry we came out so flat,” Banghart said. “Those were two good teams, and one of them didn’t play well tonight.”
From an individual standpoint, senior guard Shayla Bennett leads the conference in assist/turnover ratio (2.31), first-year forward Malu Tshitenge leads the ACC in offensive rebounding (4.32 per game) and junior center Janelle Bailey is second in rebounding (9.95 per game).
But that wasn’t the team fans saw inside Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“We were just two steps late,” Banghart said. “I wish it was one step, but it was two on both ends. We weren’t able to get bodies in front of the ball.”
Bennett and Tshitenge seemed to be the main players that could find the basket without too much trouble for North Carolina. Combined, they scored 31 of UNC’s points with Bennett leading the way at a team-high 19. The senior also had the most assists (three) while Bailey led the team with 13 rebounds, the majority of which were defensive. However, Duke shared the ball better than UNC to pick up 19 assists, showing a strong ability to move the ball around.
“I wish we were able to move the ball a little bit more in the zone,” senior guard Taylor Koenen said.
While individual players stood out for brief moments, the overall effort of the team fell flat.
“It was our energy,” Banghart said. “We’ve been so solid and so consistent on both ends with our pace and our effort. You know, you have ebbs and flows throughout the semester and what not. We have a small rotation so when two members are fatigued, it really affects your offense.
“We were just flat.”
The question remains what caused UNC to stay flat for the entire 40 minutes. The Battle of the Blues is one of the most widely talked about games, which makes North Carolina’s performance more confusing in the context of its season.
“We want to win more than anything to show that we’re the better blue,” Koenen said, “and it just stinks that we fell short tonight.”
Whatever the reason may be, the Tar Heels struggling against Duke poses a potential problem for the rest of the season. With just six games left before the ACC Tournament, the team needs to separate itself from the pack in order to secure a double bye in the tournament.
If they start a streak of falling flat, this goal could be in jeopardy, and Banghart could find herself perplexed again, pacing along the bench with her index finger resting next to her mouth.
“We called this week ‘separation week’ because it separated ourselves from those in the middle and bottom half of the league,” Koenen said. “We didn’t get the chance to do that tonight, but we’re hoping to get the win against Virginia Tech.”
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