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Wednesday October 27th

Women's basketball seniors leave it all on the court in NCAA Tournament loss to Alabama

UNC graduate guard Stephanie Watts high-fives first-year forward Alyssa Utsby during Carolina's 80-71 first-round NCAA tournament loss at the Alamodome in San Antonio on March 22, 2021. Watts had a team-high 29 points in her final outing as a Tar Heel. Photo courtesy of Dana Gentry/UNC Athletics
Buy Photos UNC graduate guard Stephanie Watts high-fives first-year forward Alyssa Utsby during Carolina's 80-71 first-round NCAA tournament loss at the Alamodome in San Antonio on March 22, 2021. Watts had a team-high 29 points in her final outing as a Tar Heel. Photo courtesy of Dana Gentry/UNC Athletics

Senioritis. 

It’s a term that can be used to describe seniors as they start to have a decline in motivation or performance. 

This term, however, was not applicable for graduate guard Stephanie Watts and senior center Janelle Bailey. In what would be their final game in a UNC uniform, they left it all on the floor in an 80-71 loss to Alabama in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Monday.

Watts scored 29 points off seven 3-pointers and added three blocks, while Bailey had 16 points and was a rebound shy of achieving her 45th career double-double. 

“You don’t get to the NCAA Tournament without really good seniors,” head coach Courtney Banghart said. “I’m really proud of mine today.”

It was apparent throughout the game that both Bailey and Watts wanted to extend their college careers. Bailey was a force on the boards, grabbing four offensive rebounds in the first seven minutes of the game. Meanwhile, Watts seemingly answered every Alabama three with one of her own.

Watts' presence was even more evident in the fourth quarter. After Alabama led by as many as 12, Watts scored 13 points in the quarter, including two 3-pointers in 29 seconds, to help trim the deficit to five with just under seven minutes to play. 

Despite her efforts, Alabama countered at nearly every opportunity and ultimately sealed the win.

“Defense wins games,” Bailey said. “That’s something you can always count on when you can’t get things going on the offensive end.”

Despite the loss, the legacies of both Watts and Bailey will not be forgotten within the program any time soon.

Watts came to UNC as a first-year in 2015 from Wesley Chapel, N.C., and was ACC Freshman of the Year and second-team All-ACC. In her second year as a Tar Heel, she improved her scoring to 16.8 points per game.

That season, Watts started all 26 games she was available, but her season came to an abrupt end when she suffered a torn tendon in her knee. She missed the rest of the season and sat out the next campaign as well.

While Watts was injured, Bailey entered the program as a first-year out of Charlotte. Like Watts, she was named the ACC Freshman of the Year in 2018, and also was an honorable mention for the All-ACC team, averaging 15.3 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.

In 2018-19, Bailey and Watts were able to share the court for the first time. In that season, they helped UNC reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. 

For Watts, that season produced one memory that stood above the rest.

“My favorite overall moment as a Tar Heel was beating No. 1 Notre Dame,” Watts said. “Me and (Bailey) talk about that a lot and that was one of our favorite moments together and playing together.”

After her junior season and the resignation of long-time head coach Sylvia Hatchell, Watts decided to take her talents elsewhere and transferred to Southern California. But after four games, she was once again sidelined for the rest of the year due to a cyst in her knee that required surgery.

Her career seemed to reach a dead end, but then COVID-19 hit the United States, and the door opened for a potential return to Chapel Hill.

“I’m so glad to be here, I’m glad Coach Banghart trusted me enough,” Watts said. “I got back here, and I’m just blessed to be here and bring my team back to the tournament.”

Although Watts' and Bailey's on-court presence will be missed, their contributions could have a lasting impact on this young UNC team, still amid a rebuild for years to come. 

@noahmnroe

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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