With “Carolina in My Mind” by James Taylor ringing from the rafters of Carmichael Arena, the North Carolina women’s basketball team's seniors and graduate students finished the last home game of their collegiate careers on Thursday night.
UNC faced the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, winning 84-59 in a decisive victory. The emotions ran highest in Carmichael Arena when the seniors’ names were called during a pre-game ceremony.
The game began in favor of the Tar Heels, with a 52.9 percent mark from the field and a 3-6 clip from deep in the first half. The Tar Heels held a three-point lead at the end of the first quarter, but truly found their footing in the second. The half ended with a one-legged jump shot from first-year Alyssa Ustby, making the score 46-24.
Just 14 seconds into the second half, Ustby notched a layup on a fast break. The Yellow Jackets started to gain ground on the Tar Heels, going on a 9-0 run during the third quarter. But ultimately, Georgia Tech could not keep up with North Carolina’s superior field goal percentage and 3-point precision, resulting in a North Carolina win.
Senior Janelle Bailey has been one of the Tar Heels' best players and most consistent voices since her first-year campaign in Chapel Hill. She won the 2018 ACC Freshman of the Year Award, and is one of just nine players in program history to score over 1,600 points and grab at least 900 rebounds.
“It’s definitely bittersweet to play at home this last time,” Bailey said. “I’m just glad that we won and that I was able to do it with this group.”
After a slow first quarter, Bailey came alive in the second, quickly scoring eight points for the Tar Heels to further stretch their lead. Bailey finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds on the night for the double-double in her final home game.
Graduate student Petra Holešínská, a native of Vracov in the Czech Republic, joined UNC in the 2020-21 season after playing four years at Illinois. She won three national championships with her club team in the Czech Republic and earned an All-Big Ten honorable mention.
“When we were recruiting Petra, we just kind of fell in love. She’s got such an infectious personality,” UNC head coach Courtney Banghart said. “I’ve got a real soft spot for (Holešínská).”
Much like Bailey, Holešínská hit her stride in the second quarter. She scored the first bucket of the frame and didn’t stop there, going on to score 13 points on the night. She led UNC in 3-pointers Thursday night, knocking down three.
Graduate student Stephanie Watts, meanwhile, rejoined the Tar Heels after she spent the 2019-20 season at Southern California as a transfer. She has had a college career of ups and downs, with injuries keeping her off the court for long stretches. Similar to Bailey, Watts was a 2016 ACC Freshman of the Year and sits in the top three on the all-time list for 3-pointers made at UNC.
“It means a lot to me to be finishing out my college career here,” Watts said. “It’s been just a journey, I feel like this was just a blessing for me to be out here and healthy.”
Watts scored nine of the team’s 17 points in the first quarter, going 5-5 from the free-throw line. Her aggression early on drew several fouls from the Yellow Jackets, which allowed ample opportunity for UNC to get ahead at the line. Watts was perfect from the stripe and scored a total of 14 points.
Banghart said each senior brings a different aspect to the team that they wanted to harness Thursday night. Bailey’s competitiveness and determination to win, Watts' drive to return to UNC and help rebuild the women’s basketball program and Holešínská’s trust in joining a new team all went into the win against Georgia Tech.
“We sort of utilized each of their main themes and how we see them as individuals for the game plan,” Banghart said. “It worked out well."