COLUMBUS, Ohio — Three juniors, 1.8 seconds and one hail mary.
Deja Kelly popped out on the wing, looking to draw multiple defenders. Alyssa Ustby cut inside, anticipating the ensuing lob.
As Kennedy Todd-Williams watched her inbound pass clank off the rim, the UNC guard put her hands on her knees, then on her head in disbelief. Kelly pointed to the clock as time expired, pleading her case to an official, while Ustby trudged back to the bench.
Just like that, No. 6 seed North Carolina was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, falling 71-69 to No. 3 seed Ohio State in the second round.
“It's the beauty of March, and it's the brutality of March,” head coach Courtney Banghart said.
In her final postgame press conference of the season, Banghart was joined by Ustby and Todd-Williams to her left. To her right sat Kelly, who stared at her shoes and didn’t look up until she was asked questions. The three All-ACC players combined for 54 points on Monday, including 21 of the team’s 23 in the fourth quarter.
What’s left to say about this group that has not already been said?
“I would be nowhere without these three for all the obvious reasons and also all the not-so-obvious reasons,” Banghart said. “How they stuck by each other, they stick by me, they believe in our program and what they have meant to us.”
Three years ago, Banghart’s then-rookie recruits arrived in Chapel Hill as disjointed pieces of a developing puzzle — Ustby, the versatile Minnesotan forward, Todd-Williams, the homegrown talent and Kelly, the flashy five-star guard from San Antonio.