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In a 72-63 loss to Virginia Tech, UNC women's basketball goes cold from deep

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Senior guard Taylor Koenen (1) catches the ball and waits for an opportunity to pass the it in a game against Virginia Tech at the Carmichael Arena on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020. Koenen scored a total of 19 points. UNC lost to Virginia Tech 72-63.

North Carolina women’s basketball coach Courtney Banghart has preached this all season: To win, her team either needs to consistently make 3-pointers or consistently defend opponents behind the arc.

Against Virginia Tech on Sunday, the Tar Heels did neither.

In a 72-63 loss to the Hokies, UNC went just 1-11 on 3-pointers (a season-low 9.1 percent) and allowed its opponent to make six.

That wasn’t backbreaking on its own, but the amount of points Virginia Tech got from deep (18) compared to North Carolina (3), was certainly damaging to the Tar Heels' cause. As was the fact UNC averaged seven made 3-pointers entering Sunday.

“Truly,” Banghart said, “that was a shooting nightmare.”

There were other culprits in UNC's second loss in a row after falling to rival Duke on Thursday.  As Shayla Bennett noted, North Carolina (16-8, 7-6 ACC) left 10 points on the free throw line. And some shots, Bennett said, simply didn’t fall.

But a total lack of 3-pointers was Public Enemy No. 1.

“That’s something we have to work on,” said Bennett, who went 5-20 and 0-4 on threes. “1-11 from the 3-point line, that's a big difference in our game. We hunt threes in transition ... they make a big difference for us.”

North Carolina did survive the first half without much outside shooting, and only trailed 34-31. That was mostly thanks to Taylor Koenen, Janelle Bailey and Malu Tshitenge, the trio who combined for 28 of those 31 first-half points.

Bailey (11 at half) and Tshitenge (seven), UNC’s starting frontcourt this season, controlled the paint with jump hooks and post-ups. Koenen (10) made the team's lone 3-pointer in the second quarter and also worked the midrange area.

“Against Duke, we were flat,” Banghart said. “I don’t think our kids were flat (today).”

The poor shooting caught up with UNC in the second half, when a lack of depth — a common problem this season — forced the Tar Heels’ hand.

Guard Madinah Muhammad, who was already struggling, was whistled for her third and fourth fouls late in the third quarter. On the latter, a collision at midcourt, she was visibly shaken up and went to UNC’s locker room with a Gatorade towel draped over her head.

Then, with UNC trailing 52-49 midway through the fourth quarter, Bailey fouled out after being called for three fouls in just over a minute of gameplay. Down one of its best shooters and its best inside scorer, North Carolina was hard pressed for buckets.

“Clearly, we were a little out of rhythm there,” Banghart said.

A cold afternoon from deep was most damaging late in the fourth quarter, when UNC missed a number of crucial 3-pointers that could have made its deficit manageable. At the 3:56 mark, UNC trailed 58-53 and proceeded to miss three 3-pointers (two from Koenen, one from Bennett) before it became a 60-53 margin.

“It was tough,” Koenen said. “I guess all we can do now is battle. We have more games coming up. We've just got to compete.”

The eventual loss marked the first time UNC has dropped consecutive games all season. It also hurt the Tar Heels in the uber-competitive ACC standings — they’re now in a sixth-place tie at 7-6. The two teams just above them at 7-5? Virginia Tech and Duke, their last two opponents.

“If you're going to shoot poorly against two teams that are right with you in the standings, it's going to be hard to win,” Banghart said. “We’ll regroup; we’ve got Syracuse on Thursday, and I still like where we are.”

@chapelfowler

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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