The North Carolina women’s basketball team (1-0, 0-0 ACC) cruised to a 92-47 season-opening victory over North Carolina A&T (0-1, 0-0 Big South) behind a combined 30 points from graduate transfer guard Carlie Littlefield and sophomore guard Alyssa Ustby.
The beginning of the game was a bit shaky for the Tar Heels. Early in the first quarter, UNC missed three close-range shots in a row. A 3-pointer from Littlefield around the eight minute mark ignited the Tar Heel offense, and smoothed over this brief patch. By the end of the first quarter, the Tar Heels pulled out to a 20-8 lead.
Halfway through second quarter, he bench really began to shine, as redshirt junior guard Eva Hodgson, junior forward Malu Tshitenge and first-year guard Destiny Adams all played aggressively and put up points to solidify UNC’s lead.
The Tar Heel defense also picked up, as Hodgson and Kelly placed direct pressure on ball-handlers, often picking them up at half-court, at one point causing back-to-back Aggie turnovers by Hodgson. The team had great energy on and off of the bench and their shots were falling. By end of the second quarter, UNC was shooting 57 percent to the Aggies' 33 percent.
The Tar Heels came out firing at the start of the second half, going on an 11-0 run in the third quarter to stretch their lead to 60-21. By the six-minute mark, after two back-to-back steals and lay-ins by UNC, NC A&T head coach Tarrell Robinson called a timeout to calm his team down. This proved unsuccessful, however, as UNC soon improved to its largest lead of the game — 46 points — by the end of the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, scoring was much more even, with UNC leading 17-12. However, after 36 turnovers and shooting 36 percent on the game for the Aggies, there was little they could do.
Who stood out?
Littlefield and Ustby had impressive offensive performances in the Tar Heels' first game of the season. Littlefield immediately stood out in today’s game, coming out aggressive and looking to shoot. In the first three minutes of the game she hit two back-to-back 3-pointers to start up UNC’s offense, and stayed hot. She went 6-for-7 from the field for 15 points, and totaled five assists and four steals. Ustby didn’t come out as hot in today’s game, but remained a consistent presence throughout. Stepping into a small forward role, she tied Littlefield for 15 points, while also putting up seven rebounds.
Sophomore guard Deja Kelly also stood out in today’s game. She was critical in the Tar Heels offense as she stretched the Aggie’s defense with her ball movement and quick passing. On top of her 13 points, her passes across the court and her ability to find an open teammate often led to a secondary pass that resulted in points. Kelly was also an important contributor on defense, totaling four steals and only one personal foul. She kept hands up on defense and put pressure directly on the ball, leading to turnovers on Aggie travels.
Also notably, Eva Hodgson came off of the bench to put up 13 points, going 5-5 from the field. She tied Kelly for the second-highest scorer on the game, to go along two assists and two steals.
When was it decided?
By the onset of the second quarter, UNC was firmly in control of the game. A&T was in a scoring drought, and went for eight minutes at one point in the first half without scoring. It was clear that the strategy of defensive rotation employed by head coach Courtney Banghart was working, as A&T couldn’t seem to find their rhythm. The Aggies found themselves in a hole they couldn’t climb out of, while the Tar Heels put up a decisive 25 points in the second quarter.
Why does it matter?
North Carolina is a young team, with nine out of 14 players on the roster being first-years or sophomores. For most of these players, it was their first time playing in front of fans in Carmichael Arena. And they were ready.
UNC shot 54 percent from the field and 50 percent from the 3-point line, significantly higher than the their shooting averages from the 2020-2021 season. This game also served as a test run for Banghart, who switched between different zone defenses and man-to-man coverage, as well as vastly different line-ups throughout the game.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will travel to Charlotte this Sunday, Nov. 14 to take on the Charlotte 49ers in their second game of the season, with tipoff set for 3:30 p.m.
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