The 3-point shot is considered the great equalizer in college basketball. Teams can utilize perimeter shooting to offset a distinct height advantage.
The North Carolina women’s basketball team proved Thursday night that it can excel from both the perimeter and in the paint as the Tar Heels rolled to a 65-47 road victory over Virginia at John Paul Jones Arena.
Janelle Bailey score 16 points and grabbed five rebounds to lead six players in double figures as the Tar Heels handed the Cavaliers a loss in their ACC home opener.
“I’m really embarrassed by our effort today,” Virginia coach Tina Thompson said. “I know my kids and I know how hard we work, and I know how much effort we put in to prepare for these games. So, in our home opener in the ACC, for us to come out lethargic, no energy, it’s just unacceptable.”
UVa (5-8, 0-2 ACC) found some success early on. Shemera Williams scored five points, including a 3-pointer from the top of the key to build an 11-7 lead with 3:11 left in the first quarter.
The good work continued as Lisa Jablonowski scored on a pick and roll and Dominique Toussaint capped the quarter with a great behind the back move into a layup for a 16-11 lead after one.
The second quarter was all UNC (11-2, 1-1).
The Tar Heels showed why they are the top scoring team in the ACC, outscoring the Cavaliers 25-6 in the second quarter. Coach Courtney Banghart’s team was particularly efficient from beyond the arc, hitting 6 of 11 long-range shots to pull away.
“I think we knew the game wasn’t going to be won after one quarter,” Jablonowski said. “But they started hitting shots, they knocked down the 3-point shots and we just got frustrated, we put our heads down and we didn’t respond the right way.”
Madinah Muhammad drilled a trio of 3-pointers, including one from the left wing with 3:27 left to give the Tar Heels their biggest lead of the first half, 32-18. Jablonowski answered with a pair of layups to try and keep UVa in the game, but Shayla Bennett closed the half with an impressive layup to give UNC a commanding 36-22 lead at intermission.
Thompson said her team got complacent after the early lead.
“We’re a blue-collar team and at no point in the game do we have the luxury of being comfortable and not being exactly who we are,” she said. “At no point do we have the luxury of diverting from the game plan. We spend hours and hours of watching film because it’s necessary for us to be precise and play teams and defend them in certain ways.
“We went out in the second quarter and did not do that. We lost the game in the second quarter. They outscored us by 19 in the second quarter and we lose this game by 19. That was our demise.”
With the 3-point shots falling, the Tar Heels spent the third quarter pounding the ball in the paint to Bailey. The junior center took advantage of the opportunities, scoring six points, including a nice shuffle feed from Bennett to give UNC a 48-29 advantage with 3:51 left in the quarter.
The Tar Heels led by as many as 22 points late in the third before Jocelyn Willoughby knocked own a 3-pointer from the corner for UVa to close the gap to 53-34 with one quarter to play.
In the fourth, Willoughby scored five straight points and Toussaint added a reverse layup to pull Virginia within 55-41 with 6:17 left.
UVa closed the gap to 12 on Williams’ layup with 5:45 left, but that would be as close as the Wahoos would get as the Tar Heels maintained the lead in the final four minutes to seize the win.
“We have to stop teams,” Thompson said. “The ACC is a very difficult conference and it doesn’t get any easier. Today was a winnable game for us and like I told our kids, we cannot leave wins on the table. If you sit down at a restaurant, you’re not going to leave your wallet on the table and go home, you’re going to take your money. That’s how we were supposed to approach this game today and we did not do that.”
Muhammed finished with 11 points, five boards and four assists for UNC. Malu Tshitenge, Taylor Koenen and Bennett tallied 10 points apiece to lead a balanced Tar Heel attack.
Willoughby scored 10 of her 12 points in the second half to lead the Virginia. Williams and Jablonowski also finished with 12 points for the Cavaliers.
Virginia travels to Raleigh on Sunday to take on No. 9 N.C. State. Thompson said changes will be made.
“We’re going to have to go back to the drawing board and we’re going to have to change how we are approaching things and our effort,” Thompson said. “We have to start games and we have to finish games. I’m apologetic, to our fans who are showing up for us every time we come home to support us, it’s not OK, but we’ll come back and we’ll be different, I can promise that.”