The North Carolina women's basketball team pulled off a blowout win over the No. 18 Syracuse Orange on Thursday night, 92-68. Looking to gain their first ACC win of the season, first-year guard Deja Kelly and senior center Janelle Bailey showed up in a big way, dominating a top-20 team from start to finish.
Coming into the game, the Tar Heels, who started the season 5-0, had been struggling over their last two games to open conference play. On Thursday, they put in a well-rounded effort against one of the best squads in the country to avoid a three-game skid and come away with an impressive upset win.
“I’m really proud of this team,” Bailey said. “It was a team effort. Everyone was happy for everybody. It paid off.”
In their last game, a low-scoring four-point loss to the Miami Hurricanes, the five first-years and Bailey led the Tar Heels for much of the night. UNC head coach Courtney Banghart said after the game that she needs more out of her older players.
“This is not a team that wants things to be easy. They deserve this,” Banghart said. “They all played much better.”
Amid the balanced effort from the Tar Heels, Kelly played the best game of her young collegiate career, scoring a career-high 22 points and dishing out eight assists. She also played nearly the whole game, only coming out for a quick two-minute breather.
“All-around, on the offensive end and the defensive end, we played really well together,” she said. “We shared the ball really well”
Eight games into her UNC career, Kelly has certainly impressed. Coming into Thursday’s upset, she was averaging 12.3 points and 2.4 assists per game, and already was firmly in the driver's seat less than a year removed from high school ball. It is especially meaningful to her that her best game of the season came against such a highly-touted team like Syracuse.
“I was actually really excited coming into this game knowing they are a ranked opponent and knowing they have really good guards,” Kelly said. “Coach gave me a lot of responsibility for this team, and I was willing to take it. I was excited to go against those guards today.”
Kelly, who headlined Banghart’s first recruiting class as ESPN’s No. 10 overall player in her class, faced off against two of the best guards in the ACC in fifth-year Tiana Mangakahia and redshirt senior Kiara Lewis. Both players have been named first-team All-ACC guards during their careers at Syracuse.
“I thought she played a great game,” Banghart said. “She’s continually playing with better pace game after game. We’re certainly glad she’s ours.”
As Banghart continues to fill the program with top-tier talent, things are looking up for the North Carolina program. In just her first two full classes at the helm in Chapel Hill, Banghart has signed three five-star prospects and four four-star recruits. If those players end up anywhere near as good as Kelly, the sky's the limit for UNC.
“The younger guys are growing up, and we are gonna get better and better as they grow up, too,” Banghart said.
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