Note: This is the first edition of a weekly women’s basketball notebook throughout the season at Inside Carolina.
CHAPEL HILL, NC — The North Carolina women’s basketball team batted their ticket to the Sweet 16 last season for the first time since 2015, but fell short at eventual NCAA champion South Carolina Gamecocks. With expectations raised and looking to take the next step, the 2022-23 Tar Heels have a strong core returning with four of five starters bringing back Deja Kelly, wings Kennedy Todd-Williams and Alyssa Ustby and post Anya Poole . The team also bring back “sixth starter” Eva Hodgson, who was the top scorer from the bench.
Two of those tar heels – Kelly and Ustby – were among the 50 players selected for the pre-season watchlist for the 2023 Naismith Trophy, which goes to International Player of the Year. These women have also been recognized for other awards, including the Nancy Lieberman Award for Best Point Guard in the Nation and the Cheryl Miller Award for Best Small Forward, respectively. The team also added newcomer Paulina Paris, a Congers, NY native, who brings more talent and depth to the backcourt.
In the fourth year of the Courtney Banghart era, these tar heels entered their 2022-23 campaign at No. 12 on the AP Top 25.
LAST WEEK’S RESULTS
North Carolina 91, Jackson State 59
Jackson State is the two-time SWAC title holder and became the first team in Conference history to win 18-0 in league play in the 2021-22 season. Led by preseason redshirt forward Deja Woodard and forward Miya Crump, the Tar Heels and Tigers met for the first time on Wednesday.
Despite the Tigers’ defensive intensity, UNC pulled away in the second quarter, going into halftime with a 53-20 lead and not looking back.
Todd-Williams scored the first bucket of the night with a knight just below the 3-point line. Moments later, she ripped off a defensive rebound at the other end of the court – a sign for the future. Todd-Williams had a career-high 20 points and nine rebounds.
Hodgson earned her first tar heel start and she made it count. The presence of the redshirt veteran was a valuable part of the team’s success as she played the most minutes without a team, contributing 13 points, six rebounds and five assists. Ustby shot 9 of 10 from the field, ending with a double-double of 19 points and 10 boards.
Paris contributed 13 points and put the jab step to work for her all night in her impressive debut for the Tar Heels. “She definitely didn’t look like a freshman,” said Kelly, whose evening ended with an ankle injury in the third quarter. “I think we’re really proud of them and happy for them. She attacks very well in training and that carries over well into the game.”
UNC shot 57.8 percent from the field (37 to 64), 35.0 percent from 3-point range (7 to 20), and 45.5 percent from the free throw line (10 to 22).
North Carolina 75, Texas Christian 48
This was the second year in a row that the Horned Frogs and Tar Heels had met, and despite a virtually new TCU team with seven new signings, the result on Saturday afternoon was essentially the same.
A slow offensive start for UNC allowed TCU to start an 11-2 run and lead 17-15 by the end of the first quarter. While the second quarter started on a similar footing, Paris broke the goal doldrums with a jumper that seemed to be the spark the team needed. Facing a tightened defense from Tar Heel, the Horned Frogs were held to seven points in the second quarter and six points in the third, putting the game out of reach. UNC forced 24 turnovers and maintained TCU at 25.0 percent on shooting, including 15.6 percent on two-point attempts (5-for-32).
Five UNC players scored in double figures. Kelly had seven assists and Poole led the team with eight rebounds.
UNC shot 45.3 percent from the field (29 to 64), 16.7 percent from 3-point range (3 to 18), and 63.6 percent from the free throw line (14 to 22).
COACH QUOTES by COURTNEY BANGHART
On the general health of the team: “I’m super excited, it’s been a really unique off-season for us over the past few months, we’ve got some kids who are recovering from injury, we’ve got some kids who are limited to minutes and all that and stuff to see how it comes together with the parts we have shows toughness and knowing we are getting healthier bodes well.”
About Eve Hodgson: “Eve has great tenacity and a lot of experience, she needs to have a faster trigger of three because that’s what she can do for us. I think last year the role for her was to be what we need of you and I think this year she has to do that a little bit the same way, but she’s remarkably consistent and I’m not worried about her at all .
Nov. 16 – vs. South Carolina State – 11 a.m./ACCNX
Nov. 20 – at James Madison – 2pm/ESPN+
The Tar Heels have another home game against South Carolina State on Wednesday before traveling to Harrisburg, Va., to face James Madison.
Wednesday’s opponent, MEAC’s South Carolina State, will be coached by Timothy Eatman in his first year at the helm. Eatman had been an assistant at Rutgers for the past seven years Hall of Fame Coach C. Vivian Stringer. Last season, the Lady Bulldogs battled for a 4-25 record and start this year 0-3.
A more formidable opponent, James Madison, is 2-1 on the year. The Dukes’ only loss is Maine in a 60-58 squeaker, where the Black Bears scored with a second on the clock. Experienced trainer Sean O’Regan looks at Senior Guard Kiki Jefferson to shoulder the burden of points. A threat from within and without, Jefferson estimates almost 22 points and eight boards per game.
In an interesting coincidence, both South Carolina State and James Madison shared an early opponent at D2 Queens University of Charlotte. SCSU dropped the game 50-41 while JMU won 89-48.
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