After a stifling defensive performance in its season opener against Radford, the North Carolina women's basketball team put together another defensive showcase against UNC-Greensboro on Saturday.
The Tar Heels held the Spartans to just 10 made field goals on their way to a 96-35 rout.
“This game, we had way better defensive intensity,” senior center Janelle Bailey said. “I thought that we picked that up and that was something we harped on the past couple of days.”
A dominant showing in the paint fueled UNC on the defensive end, led by redshirt sophomore Ariel Young — who finished with 11 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. The Tar Heels corralled 31 defensive rebounds while holding the Spartans to 13 offensive boards. Through keeping UNCG off the offensive glass, North Carolina held its opponent to just six second-chance points.
UNC also recorded four blocks and forced the Spartans to commit several shot-clock violations. Bailey said the Tar Heels’ length and size helped them dominate on defense. Players and coaches also attributed much of the dominant performance to improved communication.
“We’re way longer (than last year), so we’re able to get into passing lanes,” Bailey said. “If you look at that stepping on the court, that’s something that you really don’t want to see. We just have something at every position that, honestly, no team would want to face. I sure wouldn’t.”
The Tar Heels length and strong defense translated into a prolific performance on the offensive end. The Tar Heels' rebounding gave them nine more field goal attempts than the Spartans and helped them score 16 more second-chance points. The Tar Heels also scored 46 points in the paint compared to six for UNC-G.
While Bailey and first-year forward Anya Poole anchored the paint defensively, wings and guards locked down the Spartans along the perimeter. Fifth-year guard Stephanie Watts — who played in just four games as a transfer at Southern California last year before returning to UNC — led the Tar Heels’ perimeter defense with four steals.
“It was good to have her back in Carolina Blue,” Bailey said. “I definitely missed playing with her, and she definitely showed what she can bring to the table. I’m really excited to continue playing with her this season.”
UNC forced the Spartans to commit 17 turnovers. Poole, who scored a game-high 15 points, said the defense propelled her and the the rest of the Tar Heels' offense.
“We know that the defense sparks the offense,” Poole said. “We get a steal, we’re like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s time to go score.’”
Guards Deja Kelly, Petra Holešínská and Watts were able to display their speed to get points off of turnovers in transition or set up a teammate to score. The trio contributed heavily to UNC’s 15 points in transition by either scoring or assisting a teammate. The Tar Heels scored 27 points off of 17 UNCG turnovers.
“We’ve got speed,” head coach Courtney Banghart said. “I put Alyssa Ustby and Watts in together, and that’s two pretty fast kids north-to-south. When you can break that open a little bit, then the basket looks really big. Our defensive intensity led to offense.”
Banghart said since COVID-19 forced her players to stay on-campus, she’s spent more time coaching this team than any other she’s coached in the past — the extra practice and coaching time played a role in the improvement and strong defensive performances from UNC, but the team still has room for improvement.
Bailey said consistency and improvement are the keys to carrying over the strong defensive performance against UNCG to the Tar Heels' next matchup, a head-to-head with High Point on Sunday, and throughout the season.
“We can’t come out one game having good communication, be in the passing lanes and be in the gap and then come the next game and be lackluster,” Bailey said. “That has to be everyday. We have to challenge ourselves everyday to get better on defense, because we know we’re going to face tougher opponents.”
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