The Tar Heels welcomed the UNC Greensboro Spartans to Carmichael this afternoon and did exactly what they did in their season opener against Radford: put on a wire-to-wire show of absolute dominance. For the second straight year, Courtney Banghart’s team started off 2-0, after cruising over their in-state opponents to a 96-35 victory. Once again, everyone contributed on both ends. It was the kind of gorgeous, up-tempo, team-oriented basketball Banghart’s Princeton teams used to dominate the Ivy League, and now she has a roster with enough health, depth, and talent to let it really get cookin’ in Chapel Hill.
Let’s get into how the largest winning margin of the Coach Bang era came to be.
Remember the even distribution of scoring and passing that made everything flow so effortlessly in the Radford game? Turns out adding Stephanie Watts and Kennady Tucker (both of whom were held out of the opener due to injury concerns) into that mix just makes it better. Watts was a little shaky with her shooting touch, but everything else we saw in her first stint with the Heels was right there. Her speed, her handles, the passing acumen, the rebounding skills; they were all on full display. Steph finished with only four points on 2-8 shooting, but she logged three rebounds, four assists, and four steals. Honestly, just seeing her on the floor again was beautiful. Kennady didn’t score, but co-led the team in dimes (5) along with Deja Kelly, and it’s clear she’s matured as a floor general. She largely ran the offense when Deja was off the court and she was manipulating the defense and passing teammates open with confidence.
The rest of the offense was, somehow, even more prolific than in game one. Led by freshman Anya Poole’s 15 points, five Heels finished in double figures. (Janelle, Petra, Deja, and Ariel Young being the other four.) Petra’s 14 came primarily from deep (4-5 from three), and Deja was working every level with ease. Two specific highlights in a game full of ’em: as anyone who’s followed this team the past three seasons knows, Janelle began as a traditional big who has diligently expanded her game to include dribble-drives, long-range shooting, and an ever-expanding arsenal of crafty post moves. Today, she scored two of her 10 points on a turn-around, one-legged fall-away jumper which was just the latest example of us saying “wait she can do THAT now TOO????” It was, in a word, dope. The other: Deja is gonna be special, y’all, and while her 13 points draw the eye in the box score, there was an absolutely filthy break where she streaked up the left side of the floor and threw a one-handed cross-court laser to Steph who finished on a reverse layup. Kid’s got all the tools. One more thing: THESE. ARE. CAROLINA’S. SHOOTING. SPLITS. FROM. THIS. GAME. 56.3/45.0/83.3. And that’s *after* they cooled off in the second half.
Speaking of shooting splits, let’s talk about the defense. The Heels held UNCG to 18.2/14.8/73.3 on the day. To be clear: if you’re going to be a top-flight team in the ACC, you absolutely should be smothering a Southern Conference opponent like that, and the Spartans were missing some key offensive players, including last season’s leading scorer. Nonetheless, the defense was flying around, closing out on shooters, denying entry passes, busting plays, and in general doing nearly everything right. Tack on a 45-24 rebounding advantage and a 17-10 turnover differential in favor of the home team, and it explains why the final score was what it was, as well as the opponent only having 11 points and being down by 40 at the half. (One does imagine that those 10 Carolina turnovers were none to pleasing to Coach Bang and that’ll be a point of emphasis going forward.)
Overall, it was about as complete a performance as you could ask for. There was even more lineup experimentation, both to incorporate Watts and Tucker, and just trying new combinations in general. Once again, the depth and tinkering meant no one used up too much gas, with Deja leading the team with just 24 minutes played. That’s a particularly good thing, since the Heels have to turn around and host High Point at 1:00PM EST tomorrow. Having spread the playing time around reduces the possibility of being caught out on short rest, which is no small thing as we move into a compressed season that is bound to see plenty of scheduling changes and just general weirdness due to COVID. See y’all right back here tomorrow to recap the High Point game, and as always, GO HEELS!