When I graduated college, I was gigging pretty regularly with a few bands, but mostly paying rent and buying food by working as a delivery driver for Jimmy Johns. For a kid from Atlanta, driving in Minneapolis, MN in winter was like that moment in Bambi when he tries to walk on ice. I was out on a delivery in December when I made the mistake of not tapping the breaks and then gently applying pressure to stop on an icy road. The car in front of me had braked, and as my front bumper skidded toward it, my brain was screaming at its own idiot self “your insurance rates are SCREWED, my guy.” I yanked the wheel hard, steered into the skid, and missed the other car’s back end by an inch or two, stopping perpendicular in the lane. I had exactly one second to breathe a sigh of relief before the Ford F350 Super Duty behind me slammed into my passenger side and caved the whole thing in. Other than a few minor cuts from shattered glass, I miraculously walked away unharmed.
Yes, this is a metaphor for the current state of the Heels. The 81-75 win over Charlotte was barely avoiding that back bumper and taking a “whew” moment. Could’ve been worse due to carelessness and inattention to detail; wound up being OK for a sec. Everything that’s happened since is that big ol’ truck plowing into my beloved “Emily” and crumpling her like so much scrap metal.
I was willing to write the Wake game off to a certain extent. Young team in their first road test of the year, Raca and Conti have been kryptonite to us for years, etc, etc. What happened in Coral Gables yesterday was different.
This was a trash fire of a game from start to finish. Miami came out and started dropping bombs from behind the arc, Carolina got flustered, started flailing, and despite a late push, just didn’t have the gas.
The shooting splits were a terrifying thing to behold: 36.2/15.8/45.5. There were enough bricks to build a palace. And look, to be fair, in what wound up a 67-63 loss, if even a few kind bounces fall UNC’s way, this is probably a win or it at least goes to OT.
What was more concerning was the listlessness and poor decision making that seemed to get worse as the game dragged on. Janelle had the successful only full-game effort I clocked, putting up a 14-13 with three blocks. Anya Poole was tenacious on the glass early, ending up with 10 boards of her own, but couldn’t contribute much beyond that. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t give big ups to KTW for busting her tail (5-8-2-1-1 in 26 minutes) despite an inconsistent day overall. This was the Heels’ second disjointed performance in a row. Poor shot selection, sloppy defense, 15 turnovers, and the aforementioned shooting woes.
If there’s a bright spot to take away, it’s that two of the freshmen basically said “we are NOT losing this game” down the stretch. While Deja Kelly and Alyssa Ustby couldn’t ultimately make that a reality, they absolutely balled the hell out to claw back in and then keep it close late. Deja was the only reason there wasn’t a doughnut hole in the team “makes” column on treys, going 3-6. She finished with 16 total points off of a combination of that outside shooting and some drives where she used her first step to absolutely blow through the Canes’ defense. I know I’ve dais it before, but she’s gonna to be all-caps SPECIAL. Ustby was everywhere, with 17-8-3 and four steals and good GAWD y’all she pulled off at least three reverse finishes at the rack that had me grinning. The fact that two frosh basically exerted sheer force of will to drag Carolina back into this one only bodes well for the future.
Again: things are not good right now. This was a bad loss; the second one in a row, and some of the limitations of this team (at least as they exist right this second) are glaringly obvious at the moment.
The thing about getting blind-sided in a car wreck is that the insurance check eventually comes through. And however long that takes, you might wind up with a better whip than you had before. I did. I think the Heels will too. Maybe this team won’t be what we thought it was after the first few games. They are young and learning and maybe there won’t be a HOLY SH*T moment like the Notre Dame game two seasons ago during the regular season. But all that talent and promise is still there and Coach Bang literally built the resume that got her to Chapel Hill in the first place by elevating her Princeton teams to heights no rational person thought was possible. By ACC Tourney time this might be a much different squad. A full season’s worth of experience and familiarity can do wonders, especially under the tutelage of this coaching staff. And hell, if we don’t rattle some cages this year, it’ll be soon. It’s coming. Conference play has been a downer so far, but it’s a long road from here to March. Hopefully Carolina can turn things around Thursday night against ‘Cuse. Until then, feel the pessimism you want to feel, be as sad or angry as you want about the conference performance so far, but keep the faith. And as always, GO HEELS!!!