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North Carolina's Ustby has seen it all come together this season

Rochester Lourdes graduate Alyssa Ustby is in her second season with the University of North Carolina basketball team. Ustby has helped UNC to a standout season by having a standout year herself.

Alyssa Ustby
Rochester Lourdes graduate and University of North Carolina sophomore Alyssa Ustby takes a shot over the Duke defense earlier this season.
Contributed / UNC Athletic Communications

Alyssa Ustby has helped lead North Carolina from a 13-11 team a year ago to one that is now 23-6 and certain to gain a berth in the NCAA Division I women's basketball Tournament.

A 6-foot-1 sophomore forward and Rochester Lourdes graduate, Ustby has certainly done her part. She was named All-ACC Second Team after averaging 13.2 points, a team-high 8.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.7 steals per game. Ustby is shooting .455 from the field and .340 on 3-pointers.

POST BULLETIN: After a 13-11 season a year ago (8-9 in the ACC), North Carolina is 23-6 (13-5 ACC) this year and ranked No. 16. What’s changed?

USTBY: The culture has changed in the course of a year. We had two great grad transfers come in (Eva Hodgson and Carlie Littlefield) who took on leadership roles that our team was looking for last year and never quite had. I just feel like this season there is more of a sense of direction and purpose. Every day, we just know what we want to accomplish. We’re now trusting each other and putting each other first. All of those little pieces add up to winning.

Lourdes grad Alyssa Ustby is a starting guard for the North Carolina in women's basketball and she leads the team in rebounding and is second in scoring.

PB: You guys are fresh off an overtime loss to Virginia Tech in the ACC tournament quarterfinals on Friday, March 4. How hard was that one to take?

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USTBY: That was a tough pill to swallow because we felt prepared for that game. Two of (Virginia Tech’s) best players got hurt early in the game and we’d built our entire defensive scheme around them. We then had to make adjustments on the fly. But regardless, that was a good loss for us because it kind of put us back on our toes.

You signed with North Carolina largely because you were impressed with its incoming coach, Courtney Banghart. Describe her as a coach.

USTBY: Coach demands the best out of you, and she’s someone who brings the best out of you. She’s created a healthy environment and a healthy culture that allows individual talent to flourish while also allowing the collective group to succeed. She does that not only on the court, but off of it. She’s always asking me about my courses and what classes I’m liking. She just cares a lot about you. I think a lot of coaches don’t have that relationship with their players.

How close is this North Carolina team and how much time do you spend with each other off the court?

USTBY: We arrive in the gym together every day, we leave the gym together, we eat dinner together, we walk to classes together, we ride scooters together. We spend almost every minute outside of basketball together because we love each other so much. We all make each other better in all aspects of life.

You’ve turned in a fantastic sophomore season and with it have been named All-ACC Second Team. What areas have you most improved in from a year ago?

USTBY: My 3-point shot and ball handling on the perimeter. I feel a lot more comfortable with both this year. Also, my composure from the high post, where I turn and face the defense when I get the ball. I’m able to read defenses a lot better. The game has slowed down for me from a year ago. Last year, it felt like everything was happening at a million miles per hour. Now, I’m calm, and I can read what I’ve been given and let my instincts take over. And I love playing from the high post.

Alyssa Ustby
Alyssa Ustby has developed into one of North Carolina's top defenders. Here, she applies it against Duke this season.
Contributed / UNC Athletic Communications<br/>

What areas do you most want to improve for next season?

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USTBY: I’d say mastering my craft in the high post and making it very difficult for people to guard me. And my next thing is sharpening my guard skills. Just expanding my game.

Who’s the leader of this team?

USTBY: It’s really a leadership by committee. We have a lot of different voices on our team. But what is unique is that we all listen to each other and give each other the respect we deserve. I’d say Deja Kelly (first-team All-ACC sophomore point guard) and I are the leaders among the younger players. We’ve been here since our freshman year and have seen the progress of the program. We know what the expectations are that we have to set for ourselves.

What area has your team improved in most from a year ago?

Alyssa Ustby
Alyssa Ustby
JEFFREY A. CAMARATI/JEFFREY A. CAMARATI

USTBY: I’d say moving the ball and getting the best shot that the defense will give us. That’s where Deja really comes in. She can attack the middle of the floor and then kick it out to a teammate. Swinging the ball and being patient with it, I think we’ve really improved with that.

The NCAA tournament is next and North Carolina is a lock to obtain an automatic berth. What seed are you figuring on?

USTBY: Had we beaten Virginia Tech (on March 4), we could have possibly gotten a 4 seed and then hosted our first two games. But we missed out on that. Now I think we will get a 5 of a 6.

What’s special about being a part of a big-time Division I athletic program such as North Carolina women’s basketball?

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USTBY: I can’t explain it, but it has been life-changing. Every day I figure out new opportunities that I’ve been given and that being a student-athlete at North Carolina gets you. Nowhere else do you find these kinds of opportunities, with the networking and the support staff for our team. And here in Chapel Hill, everyone loves basketball. I walk around Chapel Hill and I’m treated like a celebrity. I see all of these little girls wearing my jersey and I see all of these people who support North Carolina athletics. This has just been so good to me. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

Pat has been a Post Bulletin sports reporter since 1994. He covers Rochester John Marshall football, as well as a variety of other southeastern Minnesota football teams. Among my other southeastern Minnesota high school beats are girls basketball, boys and girls tennis, boys and girls track and field, high school and American Legion baseball, volleyball, University of Minnesota sports (on occasion) and the Timberwolves (on occasion). Readers can reach Pat at 507-285-7723 or pruff@postbulletin.com.
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