Style points matter less than outcomes in the women's NCAA Tournament, North Carolina coach Courtney Banghart said, and what matters most is getting the chance to be better in another game.
Banghart's sixth-seeded Tar Heels beat St. John's 61-59 on Saturday and will face third-seeded Ohio State in the second round on Monday. The Buckeyes themselves got past a slow start and beat James Madison 80-66.
“Survive to live another day,” Banghart said Sunday.
North Carolina (22-10) won after a go-ahead three-point play by Deja Kelly with 2 seconds left. But the Heels gave the Red Storm a chance when Danielle Patterson was fouled on a 3-point shot. She missed the first two free throws (though made the third), depriving her team of moving on.
“We were hoping we would play better, I think, so I think there was a chance for us as a group to regroup and say, you know, winning in ... November, you care what it looks like," Banghart said. "In March, you don’t.”
Getting the first win out of the way, even if they didn't play their best, does provide a level of comfort, Tar Heels guard Eva Hodgson said.
“To be able to weather that I think is really important for our team,” she said of the Tar Heels, who led most of the way until the final quarter.
The Buckeyes (26-7) trailed by as many as 16 against the Dukes and only grabbed the lead midway through the third quarter. Ohio State Coach Kevin McGuff said the team needs to find ways to get their offense going sooner.
“We didn’t make any shots early yesterday so we have to make sure we are, one, executing at a high level on the offensive end, and two, getting some balance in our offense where we’re not settling for threes,” he said. “Usually, if we’re not getting balance, we’re settling for 3s. So we have to try to get to the rim, maybe get to the free-throw line, just to generate some offense early to allow us to get in an offensive rhythm.”
No strangers to comebacks, the Buckeyes would prefer not to keep challenging themselves with uphill climbs. A home crowd was a bonus Saturday, but a 4 p.m. EDT Monday game might not draw as well.
“Definitely work on trying not to dig ourselves a hole or be in a deficit every single game,” Taylor Thierry, who scored 15 against James Madison, said. “That’s not going to work against every single team. That’s just something we are working on and try to play our best game and try to execute things as best as possible.”
Thierry also said things will only get more urgent: “This is a crazy month. There’s upsets. So we are just going to approach every game like it’s going to be our last, so I think we just have to go in with that mindset and we’ll be pretty good.”
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