Trailing by two with under 45 seconds left in the fourth quarter, UNC head coach Courtney Banghart made a change.
That change? A 3-2 zone.
After forcing Virginia Tech’s Georgia Amoore to her left — into UNC's graduate guard Lexi Donarski — sophomore guard Indya Nivar came up with a steal, going coast-to-coast for a fastbreak layup.
But in No. 24 North Carolina’s 70-61 loss to No. 17 Virginia Tech on Sunday, not all of UNC's defensive sequences were as effective. Early in the game, the Tar Heels struggled to keep up with the fast-paced Hokie offense. UNC had problems working around high ball screens and afforded Virginia Tech too much space on the offensive end.
Luckily for North Carolina, both teams struggled to score in the first half — shooting a combined 30 percent — allowing the Tar Heels to keep the game close.
Coming out of the halftime break, North Carolina picked up its defensive intensity, forcing five turnovers in the third quarter alone.
“Once they got into their single-side coverage, we came out of the half and really defended that well,” Banghart said. “And so they go to their next action, tried to play more in the highways and our zone takes that away.”
Part of UNC’s defensive game plan was shutting down All-American center Elizabeth Kitley. Banghart, who made sure to note the Tar Heels have seen Kitley a lot, incorporated double teams and push-outs to force Kitley into difficult situations. Kitley, who typically shoots around 54.5 percent from the field, made just a third of her shots on Sunday.
“We wanted to make her uncomfortable,” Banghart said. “We kind of gave her hell.”