Carmichael Comments: Youth Movement – University of North Carolina Athletics
Last season you might have been a bit worried if neither is the case Yes Kelly Yet Alyssa Usby scored in double digits in a game for the Carolina women’s basketball team. At least it meant the task of winning would be harder, and like other names Eve Hodgson or Carlie Littlefield would have to step up if the Tar Heels walked away with a win.
But Littlefield is gone after exhausting her eligibility and turning pro after last season. Hodgson was unavailable for the Tar Heels in both games last week. When Kelly and Ustby combined for 18 points at Clemson on Sunday – with both staying under 10 for the second time this season – someone else had to shoulder the burden.
Enter the youth.
Before Sunday’s game, players listed as juniors, seniors or grads accounted for 82.2 percent of the Tar Heels’ score — just 1,200 of the 1,459 points. Kelly, Ustby and Kennedy Todd WilliamsMembers of the announced junior class alone were responsible for more than 60 percent of this point utilization.
But in the matchup with the Tigers, two players stole the show in their freshman season, leading the Tar Heels to their seventh straight win, their longest winning streak in ACC play since 17 games in 2007. 09. Freshman Paulina Paris entered the starting lineup to replace Hodgson and rewarded Carolina’s head coach Courtney Bangharts confidence in her by posting a career-high 22 points on seven field goals scored, six of which came from behind the arc. Both figures also marked career bests for the lone true freshman on the Carolina roster. Paris also added five steals in her 33 minutes on the floor, two numbers that were, you guessed it, career highs.
“I love how she plays the game,” Banghart said when asked about the Paris win. “She’s so stable. A big night when we needed it – with Eva out we needed a lot tonight (Paulina) and she gave it.”
fate of Adam, whose intense hustle and aggressive defensive play earned her a significant amount of playing time in her sophomore season, had gotten started in the previous two instances where the Tar Heels needed a replacement for the game’s first quintet. Paris’s ball handling skills, needed against the Tigers’ press, were the key factor in the newcomer’s start, Banghart said. Banghart also pointed out that a pregame conversation in which she mentioned to Paris the fact that Clemson freshman Ruby Whitehorn was named a 2022 McDonald’s All-American and Paris didn’t serve as an additional motivator.
The monster game caught the attention of ACC media (including this station’s writer), who voted Paris their league’s Rookie of the Week. Her selection ensured Ta’Niya Latson, the standout Florida actress, would “endure” her first two-week drought without winning the award this season.
Then there’s the feel-good story of Kayla McPherson. The fast guard, a former top-20 recruit in the class of 2021, wore a red shirt last year while rehabilitating an injury sustained in high school. A lower body injury in the preseason forced McPherson to the sidelines again that year, prolonging the wait for her Carolina Blue debut. Well, Sunday was that day – more on the debut itself below. But McPherson didn’t just act, she contributed. She scored eight points in the first half, helping carry the point load and extending the Tar Heels’ lead to 19 at halftime.
“She’s going to be a very special addition to us,” Banghart said, adding that a focus for McPherson in the next step will be learning the rhythm of the collegiate game and playing with control.
Overall, the two freshmen — a real and a redshirt — scored a combined 30 out of 69 points, 43.5 percent of Carolina’s scored in-game performance. As we mentioned above, that’s a massive jump relative to the season at this point.
It’s not that the veterans didn’t contribute in other ways. Ustby continued her run as a human Windex bottle, clearing the glass with 11 rebounds. Carolina has now gained the rebound lead in four of their last five games, with Ustby averaging 10.6 boards per game on the run.
“This boy is so relentless,” Banghart said of Ustby’s pursuit of misses.
Kelly, on the other hand, recorded her second-highest assist output of the year at six. This number would have been even higher if some of their money passes had been converted into shot marks.
Todd-Williams scored 15 points, hitting double digits for the sixth straight game
As Carolina embarks on the regular season’s stretch run and subsequent post-season journey, the depth will only benefit Coach Banghart’s team. The world of women’s basketball has already met with the elite players. Get to know the young people now. What they lack in college experience, they make up for in talent. Danger.
What else I noticed this week…
Courtney Banghart will tell you that she’s good at keeping secrets. The last was that it was Sunday Kayla McPhersons Debut day. Banghart pointed to the fact that Sunday was a road game and also relatively close to McPherson’s hometown of Hull, Georgia (just under 69 miles) as reasons to unleash the guard for the first time.
“She’s such a special kid,” Banghart said of McPherson after the game. “I will never forget the day she committed and knowing she would be a big hit. Watching the adversity she’s been through, I could really see what she’s made of.”
With McPherson set to downplay the track this season, McPherson’s one-year qualification is exhausted. Her ability to help the Tar Heels win games now was also crucial in her decision to make her debut.
Win Wire to Wire
Sunday’s victory over Clemson marked the first time in an ACC game and the fifth overall win this year the Tar Heels won a game by which they were never behind. Games played outside of Carmichael Arena had proved particularly elusive to pull off dominant wins, as the Carolina had trailed Clemson on the street or neutrals at some point in all nine games in the second half. The downside is that five of those nine resulted in wins, a testament to how tough it can be to beat the Tar Heels this season. Against Clemson, however, Tiger’s first four possessions resulted in turnovers, and Carolina walked out with an 8-0 lead that she would never concede again. Clemson climbed up to four late in the third quarter, but the Tar Heels never lagged behind.
“It was the first game in a long time where we were the better team and acted like the better team from the start,” Banghart said. “Defensively we were a threat. I don’t think (Clemson) saw the basket in the first five minutes.”
Free throw success at Pitt Win
A key key to Thursday’s victory in Pittsburgh was Carolina’s success at the free-throw line, where the Tar Heels shot 18-19. Alyssa Usby set a career highlight with seven free throws made during Yes Kelly (6-for-6) and Kennedy Todd Williams (5-for-5) went perfectly from the line. The 94.7% win rate was Carolina’s best since a 20-on-21 (95.2%) win over Miami last year. Combined with a 38-31 rebound advantage, the free throw number against Pitt stood out for the Tar Heels bench boss.
“You call them free, but you still have to put it in the basket,” Banghart joked. “If you’re out and you’re good at bouncing and shooting off the free-throw line, those are two really good stats.”
It’s time for the first replay opponent of the season on Thursday when Virginia visits Carmichael Arena. Carolina will seek a win of the season against the Cavaliers thanks to a 70-59 win in Charlottesville on Jan. 12. Not only that, a win on Thursday would be a seventh straight win over the Cavaliers and 15th straight home finish, a streak dating back to 2002. The ‘Hoos will come south and lose a four-game streak, but all you have to do is look at how competitive the first meeting was to understand how challenging this game could be for Karolina. Tip is scheduled for Thursday at 6pm, our THSN coverage begins at 5:30pm with the Reeds Jewelers Pregame Show. Watch the show locally on 97.9 FM/1360 AM on the Triangle (starting at 6:00 AM) or worldwide for free via our THSN streaming platforms: GoHeels.com, the GoHeels app and the Varsity Network app Learfield.
Then on Sunday it’s the annual matchup with the Louisville Cardinals, this year a road test on the banks of the Ohio River. It’s basketball brunch with the Tar Heels, with a tip for 12:00. Carolina will play for her second straight win against Louisville after defeating the then No. 1. 3 Cardinals at Carmichael Arena 66-65 for a season-defining win. While Louisville may not be ranked for this year’s game in part due to a bumpy non-conference season, the Cardinals still lead the ACC in field goal percentage and three-point percentage. The game will start broadcasting at 11:30am on THSN, and you can find us in all the usual places: locally on 97.9 FM/1360 AM in the Triangle, or globally for free via our THSN streaming platforms: GoHeels.com, the GoHeels app and Learfield’s Varsity Network app.
In the meantime, check out the latest issue of Holding Court Courtney Banghart, which is available on the Tar Heel Voices Podcast Channel. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
That’s all for now. Walk heels!