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Young UNC women's hoops team shows its best and worst in 88-76 loss to Syracuse

Jan 19, 2021; Syracuse, New York, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels center Janelle Bailey (44) looks to shoot as Syracuse Orange forward Digna Strautmane (45) defends in the third quarter at Carrier Dome. Photo courtesy of Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Carpe diem. Seize the day.

If John Keating watched the North Carolina women’s basketball team Tuesday, he might have come to the same conclusion head coach Courtney Banghart did about her young squad after a 88-76 loss to Syracuse: the team needs to seize its opportunities.

“One of the challenges for a young team is that for young people, they think it’s just another day,” Banghart said. “As you get older, you recognize that this is an opportunity — it doesn’t always come back. We just have to help these guys understand that.”

The score isn't reflective of the effort the Tar Heels showed. But it does reflect the team's inconsistency. 26 of UNC’s 29 fast break points came in the first and third quarters. In the fourth?


The lack of fast break points in the fourth quarter was mostly down to a defensive collapse. The second quarter was all about rebounding, with UNC conceding 13 offensive rebounds in the period. In total, one of the best rebounding teams in the nation was out-rebounded a second straight game, 50-36. 

Star senior center Janelle Bailey best epitomized the tale of two teams, taking over the third quarter with 14 of the team’s 30 points but totally blanking in the fourth. Still, she acknowledged the bright spots, applauding the Tar Heels' improved rebounding in the second half.

“Our energy was definitely better throughout the course of the game,” Bailey said. “We stuck together, but now it’s time to put it all together and be desperate for our win.”

Graduate transfer guard Stephanie Watts echoed that call and explained how the team can become more consistent.

“We have a lot of people who can push in the break, so when we play fast, we get each other open,” Watts said. “It’s about boxing out and getting the rebound so that we’re able to push in transition.”

After struggling for form this season, Watts hit her first 3-pointer in over a month and added two more, ending the night with 15 points, six rebounds and four assists.

Watts said she never let her struggles get to her head, and her approach was simply to allow the game to come to her.

UNC is at its best when it can force contested jumpers and run in transition. But when up against one of the best point guards in the nation in Tiana Mangakahia, that game plan is a lot harder to execute.

Nineteen points and 13 assists don’t fully capture Mangakahia’s impact on the game. Syracuse used double ball screens to get Mangakahia downhill, finding players in the pocket or slinging passes to open shooters. UNC’s defense was able to cool her down in the first half, but as the play design became more fluid and backcourt partner Kiara Lewis caught fire, the Tar Heels couldn’t adjust — getting outscored 27-9 in the fourth quarter.

“The best on-ball defender we have is Alyssa Ustby,” Banghart said about her team's defense. “There were times where she switched onto (Mangakahia), which was awesome. But we don’t have enough on-ball (defenders) yet. That goes back to the young thing and pace. Tiana, she was just the better player today, and that’s what you expect for seniors.”

Banghart knows her young team, which includes five first-years, will need consistency if it wants to seriously compete in an unforgiving ACC. But after a recent three-week stretch without any games, she’ll be happy that her team is able to see the good in an upsetting loss and carry it forward with them.

“The energy we gave today is who we have to be,” Banghart said. “And it partly comes from getting back into game shape after being out of it for so long. (There's) a lot to look up to, and this group shows a lot of fight.”


@dthsports |

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