The No. 22 North Carolina women’s basketball team stumbled out of the gates in conference play with three-straight losses. But Thursday's gutsy comeback win over Virginia showed that the Tar Heels may be finding their stride at the right time.
The 70-59 victory on the road came on the heels of beating then-No. 4 Notre Dame, giving UNC its first consecutive wins since ACC play began. It's a performance the Tar Heels needed with critical in-state and ACC matchups looming on the schedule.
Despite a final score that would suggest a relatively seamless victory for UNC, the game was anything but for the Tar Heels. UNC trailed for the majority of the game, and the team was down nine points with just under seven minutes left in the contest. The Tar Heels also struggled to score — making just 13 field goals in the first three quarters — but relied on their defense to pull out the victory.
Against the Cavaliers, switching defensive schemes to a full-court press and spacing the floor offensively helped UNC go on a 22-2 run the last six minutes of the game and complete the comeback win, despite shooting under 40 percent from the field on the night.
The formula for victory was different against the Irish, and it will likely vary against every other ACC opponent through March.
“This league is so good, and what's fascinating about it is there's so many different ways you have to play,” head coach Courtney Banghart said. “I'm really proud of them, that they're finding ways to win without shooting the ball.”
This mentality of finding different ways to win hasn’t always been the team’s mindset. The Tar Heels found themselves ranked sixth in the AP Poll twice this season. While this is conventionally smiled upon, junior guard Deja Kelly said it may have influenced the Tar Heels to overlook opponents or change how they approached certain matchups.
With these back-to-back wins, the Tar Heels feel as if they’ve changed their mindset for good.
“I think for us, we just have to work on having that same mentality for all games, whether they're ranked [or not],” said Kelly. “Whoever we play, we're coming to hunt. We're coming to punch first. And I think that we kind of showed that to ourselves today.”
UNC’s change of mindset comes at a critical juncture for the team, with back-to-back home games against No. 11 N.C. State and No. 16 Duke up next on the schedule.
Although UNC will have a home-court advantage, neither opponent will be an easy out for the Tar Heels. The Wolfpack and Blue Devils will undoubtedly test UNC’s new mindset, as will their two unranked opponents to follow — Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh.
They’ll have to be creative against their ranked in-state foes and willing to find ways to win, even when they’re struggling to score. Against Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh, remaining focused and not overlooking an unranked opponent will be critical.
“It doesn't really matter about who we play after (Virginia) — we want to be locked into our scout (for each team),” junior guard Kennedy Todd-Williams said. “To be able to come back to Carmichael and play against N.C. State, our rival, and have all of our fans, I think that'll be a good push for us.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.