Sunday, January 3, 2016

Notes From Carmichael 1.5

Photo by Agatha Donkar @brandnewkindof
Sylvia Hatchell's 700th victory as North Carolina's head coach came today with the Heels' ACC season opener: a home tilt against Clemson this afternoon.  Carolina came out smokin' at the tip, racing out to an 18-7 lead by the end of the first quarter on the strength of some excellent defense and a few gorgeous tic-tac-toe passing displays on the other end.  (There was one particular whirling inside-out flurry of touch passes and smart, quick cuts culminating in an open corner jumper that made me wonder why they don't institute more such concepts into their offensive sets.  Carolina is great at tilting defenses with swing passes and dribble handoffs, and they're murder on opponents in transition.  I just think they've got enough smart passing talent to get a few more of those bang-bang sequences into the flow of the offense, is all.)  They also uncorked a stretch of aggressive perimeter trapping on defense that completely baffled the Tigers, something we haven't seen much of this year but that could be a very effective short-burst tactic in the future. 

Clemson firmed up a bit and outscored the Heels by a point in the 2nd quarter, running one of the few backcourt rotations I've seen this year capable of keeping up with Carolina's speed.   Nonetheless, we carried a commanding 32-22 advantage into halftime.

The second half wasn't quite so pretty.  Part of it was just plain bad luck.  The Heels had some bad bounces on the rim that normally fall for our shooters, and there was some terrible officiating that went the wrong way.  Also, though, they've shown an alarming inability to close out games this season; they get sloppy and listless when they're up big, and aren't always as focused as they ought to be.  Despite having led by as many as 20 late in the third quarter, the allowed Clemson to go on a run that cut it to 50-37 at the start of the 4th.

"Turnover" pops up way to often in Carolina's column of the final frame's play-by-play.  Nine times to Clemson's three, to be exact.  (The Heels had 24 on the game to Clemson's 20.)  Clemson deployed a brutally trapping full-court press in an effort to get back in it, and took Carolina completely out of rhythm.  They'd flail and skitter, break the press, and barrel up court totally out of control.  Drag racers with no breaks and shoddy suspension.  Ultimately, though, the talent disparity was too heavily on Carolina's side.  Four of our five starters finished with double-digit point totals, and the bench duo of N'Dea Bryant and Erica Johnson came up with a monstrous 16 boards and 5 blocks.  (N'Dea in particular was absolutely fierce in the paint today!)  Xylina McDaniel just keeps getting stronger every game, as she showed with her 9-7-2 performance today, and I loved how furious and fiery she got over that terrible (and eventually amended) foul call late.  As Ags pointed out: she's usually got a pretty staid equilibrium on the court, so when she goes off about something, there's likely a just cause for it.  Stephanie Watts was probably the player of the game, notching 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 8 dimes.  Hillary Summers tossed up a 14-10 double-double, and Jamie, despite looking somewhat out of sorts today, still poured in 16.  Even with the team's late-game difficulties, this was still a dominant 72-56 win to open conference play. 

This is such a young team overall.  They're still feeling things out: each other, the game, their own considerable talents and corresponding limits.  I keep wondering if they can put it all together against top-flight competition in time to make some noise in March.  But every game, the proverbial magic 8 ball keeps saying "all signs point to yes."  Next up: an 11-3 Syracuse squad who just decimated 12th-ranked Duke by 36 points.  This should be good.  Go Heels. 

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