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'Those are games you just have to win': UNC women's hoops looks to move forward after two-game skid

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UNC women’s basketball head coach Courtney Banghart communicates with her players at the game versus N.C. State on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024 in the William Neal Reynolds Coliseum. No. 24 UNC fell to No. 5 N.C. State 59-63.

RALEIGH — To win a conference title in a league like the ACC, head coach Courtney Banghart is a firm believer it will take multiple losses.

It’s a reflection of the conference's strength, as the ACC currently hosts six teams in the AP top-25 poll. However, it’s not without consequence. 

In the past week, No. 24 UNC has struggled. North Carolina’s late-game offensive stagnation led the team to fall 63-59 to No. 5 N.C. State on Thursday, following only days after an “undisciplined” performance to Virginia last Sunday. Since those losses, UNC has slipped to 7-3 in conference play — tied for fourth, after being atop the ACC just days earlier.

“You just got to get as many wins as you can,” Banghart said. “And so whether we’re close at this game or we’re close against Virginia, those are games you just have to win.”

In the loss to the Wolfpack, the Tar Heels were haunted by an inability to turn defensive stops into significant momentum. 

With three minutes left in the second quarter, senior guard Deja Kelly drew a charge while fighting for a rebound, but on UNC’s next possession, the shot didn’t fall. Then, after senior forward Alyssa Ustby was fouled while battling for a defensive rebound and junior center Maria Gakdeng was fouled on the floor, the Tar Heels' next shot didn’t fall either. 

Despite holding N.C. State to 16 points in the second quarter, North Carolina only made six of its 17 shots in that same stretch.

Then, after fighting back in the third quarter to make it a one-point game, the Tar Heels stagnated again. UNC shot 26 percent from the field and allowed N.C. State to go on a 9-2 run early in the final quarter. To put the nail into the coffin further, North Carolina didn’t make a single shot in the final three minutes of regulation.

Banghart said she was happy with the quality of UNC's shots, especially in the final minutes, but it ultimately came down to the fact that N.C. State made two more shots than her team did. 

“In this game, she who makes less mistakes wins the game,” she said. “We made a few too many.”

Moving forward, Ustby said she is reminding the team that in these close conference games, no matter the momentum, the Tar Heels need to figure out how to produce the best outcomes on the floor and infuse each other with confidence.

Instead of focusing on ending losing streaks or getting back into the win column, Banghart said she prefers to apply the principle of stacking wins — emphasizing the ranked wins UNC has acquired so far and work on trying to add on one at a time. 

“I think we got better from our last loss [against Virginia],” Kelly said. “Obviously, we hate losing. I hate losing. But just learning from it and continuing to grow from it will be the biggest thing.”

With tough matchups against No. 17 Virginia Tech and at Duke approaching, North Carolina will need to address its offensive woes to battle with the conference’s best. Currently, UNC is 3-5 against ranked teams. 

Losing in the ACC may be inevitable, but the Tar Heels have to keep adding wins to their stack. 

 @carolinewills03

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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