With its 81-72 win over Pittsburgh on Sunday, the North Carolina women’s basketball team accomplished something it hadn’t done since December — winning two consecutive games.
The Tar Heels have struggled with inconsistency all season but have played better as of late, including its recent upset over No. 4 N.C. State on Feb. 7. The win against Pitt also marked the team’s first road win all season.
“Obviously it’s really great to get a road win, especially at this point in the season when we’re kind of playing much better basketball,” head coach Courtney Banghart said.
UNC got out to an early first quarter lead, led by graduate guard Stephanie Watts’ eight points. Watts caught fire from deep early with two successful 3-pointers on two attempts.
“I was just really excited with how much energy we came out with,” Watts said. “I think our biggest thing was just that we wanted to come out strong from the jump, and we did just that.”
Banghart said coming out with energy was important because the Tar Heels hadn’t played in a while, since their scheduled game against Boston College was postponed last week.
“I was a little bit worried about that rust, and our kids answered the call in the first quarter, which was good to see,” Banghart said.
After taking a 10-7 lead midway through the first quarter, they never looked back, holding the lead for the rest of the game. The Tar Heels led for nearly 35 minutes of game time, but they didn’t cruise their way to victory.
Pitt stayed competitive and nearly mounted a late-game comeback in the fourth quarter. After going into the period down 14 points, the Panthers cut their deficit to just five.
But the Tar Heels have had some trouble finishing games out throughout the season. On Jan. 31, they squandered a seven-point lead in the third quarter to Virginia Tech, and on Jan. 19, they were outscored 27-9 in the fourth quarter of a 12-point loss to Syracuse.
This time though, the team showed their resilience. Up six with 56 seconds remaining, Watts stole the ball on the inbounds and laid it up, extending the lead and allowing her team to seal the win at the free-throw line.
“I think (the steal) was big for us, just because we knew if we gave up a three here, it’s a one-possession game,” Watts said. “So our biggest thing was just getting a stop that possession, whatever it took.”
With this win and the one over the Wolfpack, the Tar Heels have fully bounced back from a previous three-game losing streak and kept their hopes alive for a bid in the NCAA Tournament.
Banghart commended the team for its improvement throughout the season, which has led to this recent success.
“It’s a team that’s just dying to keep getting better, and we have to keep on keeping on,” she said.
The Tar Heels' final four conference games will not be a cakewalk, though. Every team left on their regular season schedule has a winning record, the best of them being N.C. State in what will be a highly anticipated rematch. Three of their final four games will be away from Chapel Hill, presenting another potential obstacle for a team that is just 1-5 in away games this season.
The team seems eager to take on the challenge, though. Senior center Janelle Bailey, who led UNC in scoring against Pitt with 22 points, said the momentum from this win will help propel them through the rest of the season.
“I think it’s going to carry us over to the games we have left,” she said. “I’m really excited we got this win, and now it’s time to move forward.”