In a night full of ACC women’s basketball upsets, No. 13 UNC dropped its conference opener to Florida State for a second straight loss.
The Tar Heels were the last ACC team to begin conference play when they hosted FSU following the holiday break.
Coming off of an 8-point loss to Michigan that dropped the team from No. 6 in the AP Poll to their current spot at No. 13, it was assumed that they were desperate for a win. However, following the second consecutive defeat, head coach Courtney Banghart said results aren’t the only thing her team values.
“You’re not going to go undefeated in the ACC,” Banghart said. “It can’t only be about results. It has to be about who you are and how you progress and how that drives you to the next opportunity.”
Banghart was confident in her statement that the team would likely have more ACC losses before the season was completed, a familiar sentiment that she first shared at ACC Tipoff back in October.
“For the first time in a long time, the road could have multiple losses,” Banghart told reporters at ACC Tipoff.
Thursday’s games proved to many teams that going undefeated in the ACC is unlikely. Along with North Carolina’s 78-71 loss to Florida State, No. 6 N.C. State fell to ACC rival Duke, No. 7 Virginia Tech lost to Clemson and No. 5 Notre Dame barely slid by with a 3-point win over Miami.
In UNC’s upset loss, which served as its first home loss of the season, the main problem was shooting. The Tar Heels shot only 17 percent from three and had 5 second-chance points compared to the Seminoles’ 37.
The striking difference in second-chance points demonstrates that the North Carolina defense struggled as well. The defensive performance was a downgrade from last season, during which UNC led the ACC and were fourth in the country in defense efficiency, keeping opponents to an average .77 points per possession.
The team’s defensive struggles were highlighted in the performance of FSU guard Ta’Niya Latson, the ACC Freshman of the Week for the past seven weeks. Latson thrives in pushing pace to get to the rim and did so to put up 21 points in this matchup. North Carolina junior point guard Deja Kelly admitted that as the game progressed, the guarding of Latson faltered.
"In the second half, I don’t think we guarded as well," Kelly said. "I think (Latson) was able to get into the paint and make plays for herself and she knocked down a few threes.”
Banghart has also been vocal about her desire for the team to be more physical, and admitted that an undersized team combined with unsuccessful shooting made for a bad foundation in the loss. North Carolina will need to resolve these issues, because their upcoming ACC opponents will not make things easy on them.
“FSU’s a good basketball team, and then so is Virginia Tech and so is Miami and so is Notre Dame,” Banghart said. “That’s kind of what this thing’s about.”
The teams Banghart mentioned are UNC’s next three opponents. Virginia Tech and Notre Dame are both top-10 teams, and Miami proved capable of hanging with highly ranked opposition in their close loss to Notre Dame. Banghart’s players, like her, recognize that they’re playing in an elite conference packed with good basketball teams, which comes with its own set of challenges.
“The ACC is a tough league,” junior small forward Alyssa Ustby said. “It’s hard to play in the best league in the country.”
Ustby and Kelly both put on admirable performances in the matchup to keep UNC in it until the end. Kelly was North Carolina’s leading scorer with 20 points and Ustby had her sixth double-double of the season. Yet, this wasn’t enough to lead to a win to kick off conference play, further highlighting the competitiveness of the ACC.
Although they weren’t alone in their upset conference loss, the Tar Heels recognize that there’s work to be done for them to be considered a top ACC team.
“The first game is just a stepping stone,” Ustby said. “We’re ready to fight and we’re coming.”
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