With each conference loss, the North Carolina women’s basketball team is starting to experience the strength of the ACC.
The Tar Heels fell to Miami on the road, 62-58, on Thursday night. The Hurricanes entered the matchup with a pedestrian 8-6 record and suffered a 47-point loss to UNC last season, yet none of those storylines mattered in the Tar Heels' most recent upset loss.
“This conference is so good,” UNC head coach Courtney Banghart said. “If you go out and have a bad loss, then a big win, it doesn’t really matter. It’s one game at a time. There’s no one you can really overlook in our conference — they’re all excellent.”
In the Tar Heels' three conference losses, all of which have come by seven points or fewer, each of their opponents have posed a different challenge to give the team fits.
In a 78-71 loss to Florida State on Dec. 29, the undersized Tar Heels were outmuscled on the boards and gave up 37 second-chance points. Against an especially evenly matched Virginia Tech team, foul trouble hampered stars Alyssa Ustby and Deja Kelly down the stretch.
And against Miami, an inability to connect on open shots against the Hurricanes' scrappy zone defense ultimately made the difference.
With just under a minute to play, the Tar Heels found themselves down 59-57. Sophomore guard Destiny Adams swung the ball to a wide open Kennedy Todd-Williams on the left wing. The UNC bench rose in anticipation, arms raised and ready to celebrate. With a chance to take the lead, the junior guard’s shot drew nothing but air.
“There’s no secret we’re not shooting the ball very well,” Banghart said. “Statistically, we’re really struggling. We’re looking forward to breaking that.”
A glaring difference in how the Tar Heels generated points early in the season as opposed to conference play lies in transition points. Across three ACC games, North Carolina has scored 15 fast break points. Against UNCW alone, the team had 17.
UNC’s small lineup still makes them one of the quickest teams in the league, but in any ACC game, opposing teams are likely too athletic and experienced to give up several transition baskets. That reliance on fast break scoring coupled with a lethargic half court offense is exactly why the Tar Heels were held to a season-low 58 points.
“When we can’t generate easier baskets over 94 feet, either through the defensive end or in transition, possessions are tighter and tighter,” Banghart said. “Then, when you don’t shoot the ball at a high percentage, that makes it even tighter.”
Todd-Williams echoed her coach’s sentiments, adding that the team needs to "bring a toughness moving forward."
“The little possessions matter, and we’re not able to come up with the ball,” Todd-Williams said. “Little things matter, and I think it just slipped away.”
The Tar Heels have yet to endure arguably their toughest stretch of the season. On Sunday, they’ll face No. 4 Notre Dame at home, then travel to Virginia, who is currently 13-2. Three days later, perennial ACC contender N.C. State will head to Chapel Hill.
The four-game stretch will be capped off by a rivalry home game against Duke, who currently boast a 14-1 record, on Jan. 19. With North Carolina Sitting near the bottom of ACC standings with a winless record, Kelly is embracing the upcoming opportunities to bounce back.
The junior guard understands what’s at stake, and more importantly, what needs to change in the meantime.
“It just takes a lot more to win these games,” Kelly said. “It’s a gut punch, but we’ll go back to practice and really focus again.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.