At times during Sunday’s 73-69 loss to Virginia Tech, the UNC women’s basketball team looked like it was at the top of its game. However, only playing well for part of the game doesn’t cut it in the ACC.
The game was never out of reach for the Tar Heels, but they played from behind for most of the 40 minutes, as evidenced by the fact that Virginia Tech led for almost 62 percent of game time.
“We can’t put spurts together,” senior center Janelle Bailey said. “It has to be the entire game of being locked in and constant communication.”
UNC captured the lead early in the third quarter. In their most well-played stretch of the game, the Tar Heels dominated the boards, shot well from all areas of the court and defended effectively.
With about five minutes remaining in the frame, graduate transfer Stephanie Watts hit two free throws to put the Tar Heels up eight — their largest lead of the game. Immediately after, Watts turned the ball over twice in 21 seconds, and Virginia Tech’s shooting began to heat up. With 34 seconds remaining in the period, the Hokies had tied the game back up.
“Everybody tried to do a little bit too much on their own," head coach Courtney Banghart said. "So instead of catching and shooting, they would catch it and put it down on the floor, which would be a travel, and other times, they would try to over-penetrate.”
UNC had 14 turnovers and only 12 assists, a ratio that illustrated its disjointed offense. In comparison, Virginia Tech had nine turnovers to 18 assists.
Foul trouble was another factor that turned the tide of the game. After picking up two early fouls, Bailey didn’t see the court at all in the second quarter. She later fouled out of the game with three minutes remaining.
“I’m a physical player — I’m not going to stop being physical," Bailey said. "I just have to be cognizant of picking and choosing my battles."
With Bailey limited by fouls, it was graduate transfer Petra Holešínská who stepped up, hitting big shots to keep the Tar Heels in the hunt. Holešínská and Bailey were UNC’s two leading scorers, with 21 and 14 points, respectively.
“Those are probably the only two that are always completely locked in to what we’re doing, and they’re also two of the most experienced players we have,” Banghart said. “It’s hard when you have only two, and we’ll keep fighting for our third, fourth and fifth.”
The Tar Heels are now 3-7 in conference play, and with only eight games remaining in the regular season, their hopes for an NCAA Tournament bid are beginning to wane.
Still, UNC hasn't exactly been getting blown out. Nearly every ACC game they’ve played this season has been close, and just last week, UNC nearly pulled off a comeback victory against No. 1 Louisville.
“I thought these guys fought hard, much harder than the last time we played,” Banghart said. “So they’ve really found their rhythm in terms of how hard you have to play in this league.”
Very few players on this season’s roster played for UNC last year, between two graduate transfers and five first-years. On top of that, this is only Banghart’s second season at UNC.
But this fresh roster only has a limited amount of time remaining this season to put all the pieces together and develop more consistency.
“The excitement is there’s a lot of hope for the future with so many young guys getting experience,” Banghart said. “It doesn’t help you in the present day, you know, that’s the problem.”