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Sunday December 5th

UNC women's basketball shows growth in 92-47 season-opening win against NC A&T

Sophomore guard Deja Kelly (25) runs with the ball at the game against NC A&T on Nov. 9 2021 at Carmichael Arena. UNC won 92-47.
Buy Photos Sophomore guard Deja Kelly (25) runs with the ball at the game against NC A&T on Nov. 9 2021 at Carmichael Arena. UNC won 92-47.

To some teams, college basketball has become more about offensive firepower, showcasing highlight reel three-pointers and transition baskets — far more than a defender sliding her feet and forcing a contested jump shot. 

But the North Carolina women’s basketball team didn’t care about making the flashy play Tuesday night against North Carolina A&T, instead expending its energy to get hands in passing lanes, apply on-ball pressure and force 36 Aggie turnovers to earn a 92-47 victory in Carmichael Arena.

The Tar Heels dominated on both ends of the floor, holding A&T to just 36 percent shooting from the field and 14.3 percent from three. Nineteen of the Aggies’ 36 turnovers were live ball steals by UNC, which led to 23 fast break points for the home team. Graduate transfer guard Carlie Littlefield and sophomore guard Deja Kelly each racked up four steals, as the emphasis in practice recently has been to apply on-ball pressure and keep hands in passing lanes.

“We knew from our scout that if we got points off of our defense, that would help us a lot,” Kelly said. “We really locked in on the scout and, defensively, were active and talking and our rotations were there, so I think those allowed us to get a lot of steals and cause a lot of turnovers and disruption.”

Littlefield played her first game since the 2019-2020 season after transferring from Princeton, as the Ivy League cancelled all athletic seasons last school year, but she showed no signs of rust. The Waukee, Iowa native shot 6-for-7 from the floor and scored 15 points, dished out four assists and recorded four steals.

“I’m just so happy to be playing college basketball again and with this team,” Littlefield said. “It’s been 613 days since I’ve suited up in a real game, so it’s just good to come out and play. Just a lot of fun with this team.” 

The Tar Heels’ defensive aggressiveness directly translated to their offensive success. They shot an incredible 54 percent from the field and 50 percent from downtown. The team recorded 21 assists on 34 made field goals.

Of those points, 46 North Carolina came from inside the paint, something head coach Courtney Banghart said her staff emphasizes, alongside being active in passing lanes defensively. 

“A lot of those were layups and our ability to convert turnovers to scores and get layups that way,” Banghart said. “I give a lot of credit to our conditioning and how we’re able to change direction, and we’re trying to find the rim early. Our post actually stepped out and did most of their damage from the perimeter, which gave a lot of space to other guys.”

The Tar Heels led 45-21 at halftime and opened the third quarter on a 15-2 run, using its superior talent and size to suppress any hope of an Aggie comeback. Five different Tar Heels helped create that lead by scoring at least 12 points, contrary to just one A&T player to score in double figures.  

Banghart knows how important having a wide variety of scoring options is as her team moves through the season, especially after losing first-year guard Teonni Key, the ninth-ranked recruit in last year’s class, and redshirt junior guard Ariel Young to ACL tears during the preseason.

“That’s what it’s going to have to be,” Banghart said. “It’s a team game and we’re going to need people to be dangerous at all spots. We’re going to rely on every piece of our puzzle to contribute in some way. Tonight, you saw people who have pride in what we’re doing here.”

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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