Photos from UNC's win over S.C. State
Also, a question about the Tar Heels defense, and a little bit about my trip to Clemson.
Welcome back to All in the Game, y’all.
Last weekend I went to Clemson to cover a college football game for Pittsburgh Sports Now. It was the third time I had been there, but the first for football — the previous two trips were to cover basketball games at Littlejohn Coliseum. And while I had been to Clemson previously, I always forget how far out there it is. A lot of folks like to say that a lot of places are in “the middle of nowhere,” but Clemson really is.
At some point, after you get off of I-85, you pass a produce stand, a BBQ joint and a few churches, and then you turn on a narrow two-lane road. And if my GPS wasn’t telling me otherwise, I’d think I was near American Corner and had just turned on Nagel or Laurel Grove Road. But instead of Colonel Richardson High School being nearby, Death Valley was just around the corner. And once you pass the the dairy farm, you’ll start to see fans walking up the hilly paths to the stadium.
Covering a football game at Clemson — even in this pandemic, where the beast of a stadium was two-thirds empty — was incredible. Seeing the players rub that filthy rock and then jump down the hill before kickoff was cool and fun, and hearing the masked fans roar as Trevor Lawrence carved up Pitt’s defense was really something. And I had a good seat to watch all of it in the Tigers’ socially-distanced press box. (A note here: because the field really is in a valley, I think Clemson’s football stadium is the only one I’ve been too where I didn’t have to take an elevator *up* to the press box. It was kinda weird, but convenient.)
College football season is just about over. I covered three games in-person this season: BYU at Navy, Navy at East Carolina and Pitt at Clemson. The first was the only fan-less game I went to, but all were pretty strange and didn’t fully feel like real college football. Maybe it was the masks, or the lack of crowds and bands, but something just seemed off, like Thrasher’s fries without any vinegar.
Anyways, for me, the best trip was the East Carolina game for one single reason: I got to eat Parker’s Barbecue afterwards. If you ever visit Greenville, go to Parker’s, and get the small combo with pulled pork and fried chicken. And don’t forget the yellow slaw. Trust me.
Photos from UNC’s 98-28 win (yes, that score is correct) win over S.C. State:
A question about the Tar Heels
North Carolina is 4-0 to start this women’s college basketball season. They have beaten each of their opponents by at least 25 points, and in two cases held their opponents to 35 points or less.
The Tar Heels forced South Carolina State into 24 turnovers and five shot-clock violations on Thursday.
According to HerHoopStats — as of Saturday evening — the Tar Heels are 12th in the nation in defensive rating, 12th in the nation in points-allowed per-game, first in the nation in total rebounds and 15th in points-allowed per-play.
In simpler terms, their defense has been really, really good. But is it sustainable once UNC begins play in the ACC?
I asked Courtney Banghart, the Tar Heels’ second-year head coach:
“Oh, it has to be (sustainable). Yeah, I mean, (Stephanie Watts) was playing most of her career in a 2-3 zone. The kid is really good on-ball; she should be in a man (defense) and she's got to play man at the pro level. And then of course, our bigs, you know, (Janelle Bailey) has gotten herself in the best shape. So, she can now switch out and guard the perimeter.
“Offense is a game of series of one-on-one, two-on-two and three-on-three — good defensive teams don't let that happen. And so, we just have to continue to get this young team to understand ball defense, gap defense and help defense and they're growing in that area, for sure. But if we're not good defensively in the conference, we won't be good. That's just the way this team is built and the way the league is built and the way college basketball is built. So, if we're not good at defense, we will start losing and then they'll get better at it.”
And I asked the same question to freshman Kennedy Todd-Williams, who had 14 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and four steals on Thursday:
“Defense wins games. Coach talks about defense all the time. We're listening to her. And, you know, I feel like we can go far if we play good defense, and, you know, that’ll eventually transition into offense. So, we can win games from that.”
I also asked Banghart if she thought her defense was better this season because she had more depth on her roster:
“I think we're better on defense because I've had a lot of time with them. We started in July. I also think, the fact that I have so much depth means that, if you won't do it, someone else will. The bench talks in this game. And so, if you're not going to get up and guard, if you're not going to get in gaps, if you're not going to block-out, someone else on the roster will because they're dying for playing time. All of them. It's razor thin in terms of who can help us. So, that's the best part about depth. And if you don't have that, you say, ‘please do it’ and they don't, but you play them anyway — we had a little bit of that problem last year. Now, I have no problem — and they know it — that you can sit out, and it's no problem. Someone else will do it. So, the depth helps with accountabilities across the whole operation.”
UNC has one more non-conference game, hosting Charlotte on Sunday, and then opens ACC play at Wake Forest on Dec. 10. We’ll find out how good the Tar Heels’ defense is when it faces Ivana Raca, who carved them up in the ACC tournament last March for 27 points in an upset victory for the Demon Deacons.
As I noted in my last newsletter, most of my work covering ACC women’s basketball has shifted to The Next. Check these links out, and please subscribe.
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