17 Nov 2021 | 02:22 | Basketball
Vol. 4, Edition 1: History in Many Ways
In a way, it’s only fitting that on a day in which the North Carolina Tar Heels women’s basketball team made history, the game would connect to the program’s origins and initial varsity season.
In 1974, the UNC Department of Athletics assumed women’s basketball under its umbrella, and so began the storied history of the Tar Heels. On Sunday in Charlotte, Carolina raced out to a 27-3 lead after a quarter and never looked back, earning the 1,000th win in program history. The Tar Heels become just the 18th program in Division I to reach the mark, and second among active ACC teams along with Notre Dame.
Courtney Banghart, the program’s fourth head coach, reflected on the history-making afternoon once the final horn had sounded at Halton Arena.
“When you’re in charge of the North Carolina program, you know you’re in charge of gold,” the third-year head coach remarked. “I have an obligation to give this program my best day in and day out, and I hope you saw that we honored that with effort today.”
The program’s first-ever win was a 74-47 triumph at NC State on Jan. 13, 1975, and soon after, on Feb. 4 of the same year, the Tar Heels took care of High Point on the road, 64-33. That relatively pedestrian win was mostly lost to the history books – until Sunday. With an 89-33 domination of Charlotte at Halton Arena, the 2021-22 Tar Heels tied the program record for fewest points allowed in a true road game. Fitting, right? That win no. 1,000 would tie all the way back to the start?
The defensive effort was stifling, building upon a season-opening win over North Carolina A&T in which Banghart said her team’s defensive energy “set the tone”. Through two games, Carolina opponents are shooting a mere 26.5% from the floor (27-for-102), and have committed more than double the amount of turnovers (59) than made field goals (27).
“It was a really great defensive effort,” she said. “The energy and how connected they are on both ends is why they’re finding great success.”
It’s a small sample size, but for a team that ranked in the bottom half of the ACC in turnovers, steals, and scoring defense last season, the early results are very promising. What’s impressive to me is the fact that the effort has been sustained throughout entire games, as Carolina has outscored its opponent in all eight quarters thus far. Reaching further into the superlatives, the 11 points allowed in the first half on Sunday were the fewest conceded in a half since the UNCG home win on Nov. 28, 2020, and the three points given up in the first quarter matched a program record for the fewest allowed in a period under Banghart.
And in Banghart’s eyes, defense breeds offense.
“Whenever you can end possessions with a stop, you can get out and run a little bit differently because their defense isn’t balanced,” she explained. “Our stops can trigger our offense, and I thought we’ve done that.”
Here’s what else caught my eye this week…
Poole Dives Into Sophomore Season
Anya Poole began her freshman campaign in Carolina Blue with a tremendous amount of promise, scoring in double figures in four of her first six games, and earned the start in five straight December games for the Tar Heels in 2020. While her productivity ebbed and flowed down the stretch in her first year, a full offseason has paid dividends for the now-sophomore from Raleigh. Starting in each of the season’s first two games, Poole established a new career high with 17 points on Sunday at Charlotte. She’s 9-for-14 (64.3%) from the floor in the early going of the season, and could be poised for a bigger step as the season evolves.
“She’s just a kid who has continued to get better,” Banghart said.
Hodgson’s Efficiency on Display
Eva Hodgson, one of two Carolina transfers new to the team in 2021-22, had quite the debut as a Tar Heel against North Carolina A&T. Hodgson, a New Hampshire native and 2019 Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Year at William & Mary, became the first Tar Heel in nearly eight calendar years to go perfect from the floor with at least five attempts. Hodgson was 5-for-5 against the Aggies, including 2-for-2 from three-point range. The last Carolina player to shoot 100% with at least five shots was Stephanie Mavunga, who was 10-for-10 on Nov. 21, 2013 against Coastal Carolina. Hodgson and fellow transfer Carlie Littlefield (Princeton) combined for a banner day in their first game, accounting for 28 Carolina points on 11-for-12 shooting, including 5-for-6 three-point shooting, to go with three rebounds, seven assists, and six steals.
Sharing the Wealth
In Carolina’s two games this season, only one – one – player has played 30 minutes in any given game. Kennedy Todd-Williams was on the floor for exactly 30 minutes on Sunday at Charlotte, while no Tar Heel reached the 30-minute mark against North Carolina A&T. Not only that, but all 11 healthy bodies have played at least six minutes in each contest. Yes, part of that is due to the lopsided nature of the contests, but it’s a sign of potent depth for this year’s Tar Heels. You have to go back to the Jan. 14 game against Virginia Tech to find a contest in which no Tar Heel reached the 30-minute threshold, a span of 13 games to end last year with at least one player appearing for 75 percent of the game.
Is it a trend we can expect to see continue? Perhaps, but Banghart says that giving the team the best chance to win is most important when divvying up minutes.
“Whatever rotation helps us win basketball games,” Banghart said when asked what an ideal rotation might look like. “It’s funny how invested people are into their role and how they can help the team win, as a coach our only job is to do whatever it takes to win, and whatever group is best at that time, that’s the group we’ll go with.”
Carolina is back in action with a pair of games this week, including the only home game in a 25-day span. On Wednesday night, Appalachian State makes the trip to Carmichael Arena for the 24th all-time meeting between the two in-state foes. Carolina leads the series with the Mountaineers, 19-4, and has won 17 straight in a series that dates back to the aforementioned 1974-75 inaugural campaign. Tip is set for 6:00 p.m. at Carmichael, so our Tar Heel Sports Network radio coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with the Reeds Jewelers Pregame Show. Catch the call on 97.9 FM/1360 AM WCHL in the Triangle, or worldwide for free via the Varsity Network App from Learfield, GoHeels.com, or the GoHeels app.
Then, on Sunday, the Tar Heels make the trip west to Fort Worth, Texas, to play TCU in the Maggie Dixon Classic on the Horned Frogs’ home floor. This will be just the second meeting between the two teams, with the first being a 77-54 Carolina win in 2005 in Cancun. Tip in that game is set for 4:30 p.m. Eastern, with a 4:00 p.m. Tar Heel Sports Network airtime for the Reeds Jewelers Pregame Show. Whether or not we’ll be on WCHL hinges on the men’s basketball time for Sunday – if the men play at 1:00 p.m., we’ll be on, but if that game is later, we won’t be. Regardless, catch the call worldwide for free via the Varsity Network App from Learfield, GoHeels.com, or the GoHeels app.
That’s all for now! Go Heels!