UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Courtney Banghart’s team was exhausted.
As the Tar Heels’ head coach took extra time to answer the media’s questions in the bowels of Mohegan Sun Arena, you could tell she was exasperated. She even started her postgame press conference with an apology: “Sorry that we were so injured.”
“With multiple All-Americans out, we’ve got to get healthy,” Banghart said dryly, before adding, “But we’re on the road to recovery, we’ll say it that way.”
The injury bug was too much for North Carolina to overcome, as the team could not hold off a Husky charge in the third quarter and fell 76-64. Only seven Tar Heels saw the court, with four of them playing at least 34 minutes. As a result, UConn outscored UNC 29-13 in the third quarter.
Rewind about three hours to pregame warmups.
North Carolina took the floor with a contingent standing at mid-court in navy tracksuits. Key rotation pieces Kayla McPherson and Paulina Paris were out on a game-by-game basis. Highly-touted first-years Ciera Toomey and Laila Hull were out for the season.
Fast-forward to minutes before game time. Banghart and UConn head coach Geno Auriemma — who has been forced to tweak his lineup following a season-ending injury to Azzi Fudd, among other restraints — met in between their respective benches.
“They’re beat up, too,” Banghart said. “Geno and I were kind of joking before the game, if we both were healthy, y’all would have had quite a game to watch.”
Contrary to Banghart’s implication, there was indeed high-level basketball played between North Carolina and Connecticut in the Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Showcase. But fatigue for North Carolina manifested in the second half and proved to be the difference in the game.