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Monday March 20th

Absences of Ustby and Hodgson apparent in women's basketball loss to Louisville

UNC first-year guard Paulina Paris shoots a layup against Louisville. UNC lost 62-55. Photo courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications.
Buy Photos UNC first-year guard Paulina Paris shoots a layup against Louisville. UNC lost 62-55. Photo courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications.

Courtney Banghart knew the odds weren’t favorable.

As the head coach of the No. 11 North Carolina women’s basketball team gave her closing thoughts following UNC’s 62-55 loss at Louisville on Sunday, she wanted to emphasize one thing.

“Let’s be clear: we were without two starters,” Banghart said. “That can’t be understated. That’s a big ask for a team to come into Louisville, where (the Cardinals) need to win to make the tournament, and we’re out two starters.”

With redshirt senior guard Eva Hodgson and junior forward Alyssa Ustby sidelined due to injury, North Carolina struggled to replace the veteran acumen and specialized assets both starters bring to the floor, with Hodgson being the team’s leading 3-point shooter and Ustby ranking fourth in the ACC in rebounds per game.

“It’s a big thing, we need (Ustby and Hodgson),” first-year guard Paulina Paris said. “They both do important things on both sides of the floor that we needed tonight, so that’s their impact.”

Without Hodgson’s catch-and-shoot ability, UNC shot just 1-12 from beyond the arc. Without Ustby’s interior presence and rim-running abilities, the Tar Heels grabbed 11 fewer rebounds than the Cardinals and scored just two fast break points.

Despite the noticeable absences, the Tar Heels seemed to be holding their own with a nine-point lead early in the third quarter. But when Louisville guard Chrislyn Carr began to heat up from downtown, UNC couldn’t keep pace offensively.

“We didn’t shoot well and we couldn’t generate anything over 94 feet, so points were really hard to come by,” Banghart said.

As the Tar Heels’ scoring quietly plateaued, their youth began to show. Clinging onto a 38-37 lead midway through the third quarter, Paris looked to inbound the ball to redshirt first-year forward Teonni Key.

Paris lofted a high-arcing pass from the baseline. Key, who thought a teammate was behind her, didn’t go for the ball. Seconds later, Louisville guard Morgan Jones intercepted the pass and accelerated down the floor for a breakaway layup and the Cardinals never trailed again.

After holding Louisville to 23 first half points, the Tar Heels allowed 25 points in the third quarter alone.

There was a silver lining in the loss, as junior guard Deja Kelly called the game a ‘stepping stone’ for the younger players who were asked to step up in Hodgson and Ustby’s absence. Banghart agreed, while also pointing out her team's shortcomings.

“This was a great college basketball environment,” Banghart said. “I think it sort of rattled (the younger players) a little bit. That showed itself in a few costly errors. Great experience for our young guys, but they didn’t play well enough to help us win.”

Paris played all 40 minutes against Louisville and has gelled nicely as a score-first guard. In fact, Banghart doesn’t even consider her to be a "true freshman," given all the minutes Paris has played compared to the other first-years.

But while Paris has had time to fill Hodgson’s role — who hadn’t played the previous three games — the temporary loss of Ustby was far more apparent. Until Sunday, Ustby had started 71 games in a row for North Carolina and had never missed a game in her three seasons on the team.

“Obviously we’re missing our best rebounder, but that meant a lot of us had to step up and we didn’t,” Kelly said. “That took a toll and we let (Louisville’s) pressure bother us way too much.”

According to Banghart, there isn't yet an established timetable for Ustby’s return. With its eight-game winning streak snapped and ranked matchups against N.C. State, Virginia Tech and Duke on the horizon, UNC is on a tight timetable to regain momentum — with or without its starters.

“Nobody’s super healthy at this time of the year, so I don’t think anyone’s feeling bad for us,” Banghart said.


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