The Bailey Effect

Janelle Bailey could barely stay on the court in her first game with the North Carolina women's basketball team, but even a glimpse of her in action is enough to sense her monstrous impact. Call it the "Bailey effect."

She didn't lead the team in scoring; that was senior Jamie Cherry, who scored 21 points and chipped in six assists. She didn't play the most minutes; that was Taylor Koenen, the sophomore guard who scored 19 points in 36 minutes as regular starter Stephanie Watts recovers from injury. And she didn't have the most impressive line; that was Paris Kea, who posted 18 points, six assists and five steals in her first game since earning All-ACC honors two weeks ago at ACC Media Day.

But Bailey looked every bit as impressive as her ACC Newcomer Watch List distinction suggests.

The talented freshman center battled foul trouble all night, logging four fouls -- one short of disqualification — in 20 minutes, her first action since standing out during the Late Night With Roy scrimmage. The 6-foot-4 center from Charlotte's Providence Day School went 6-for-10 from the field and added three rebounds and three blocks. But Bailey's mere presence for a team that's lacked a reliable inside threat for years more than justified head coach Sylvia Hatchell's months-long praise.

"Janelle is a force there inside," Hatchell said.

Freshman Janelle Bailey (44) attacked the post early and often on Wednesday.

Freshman Janelle Bailey (44) attacked the post early and often on Wednesday.

The Tar Heels made it an early effort to feed Bailey, who scored her team's first points off a turnaround from the left side. In the second quarter, she took on a Wingate defender on the left block and drove for the easy bucket. For the first time in years, UNC's opponent was forced to account for a low-post threat, which eased the Bulldogs' perimeter pressure and widened interior passing lanes. The "Bailey effect" was in full bloom.

She even helped on the offensive fast break, too. On one possession in the second quarter, Taylor Koenen stole the ball and passed it up to Cherry — a veteran point guard who's gotten accustomed to assuming the scoring load without a reliable post presence. In years past, Cherry would have likely ran the break herself or risked an ill-advised shot attempt from her teammate.

But not this year.

"I think they trust me enough that they can throw it inside ..." Bailey said. "Patience is going to be the key for me."

Sure enough, Cherry zipped it inside to Bailey inside for an easy bucket. On the next fast break, with Koenen and Bailey charging down the court, the defense collapsed on Bailey. That left Koenen wide open for an uncontested layup. It won't go down in the box score, but credit Bailey for the assist.

The Bulldogs adjusted at the break, doubling Bailey to start the second half. But that only opened up lanes for her teammates to drive and windows to shoot. Before long, Bailey found the ball in her hands again — so she immediately turned and flipped a right-handed hook over her shoulder. She couldn't be stopped, and her teammates knew it.

"They know when they throw it inside, something good will happen a majority of the time," Bailey said.

Bailey also helped the Tar Heels on the other end. UNC's interior defense was suspect when Bailey hit the bench, but the Tar Heels held their own with Bailey's long arms protecting the paint. She rarely left her feet against Wingate, but at 6-foot-4, she rarely had to.

The Tar Heels' defense was improved with Janelle Bailey (44) patrolling the paint.

The Tar Heels' defense was improved with Janelle Bailey (44) patrolling the paint.

The only thing stopping Bailey on Wednesday was her aggressiveness, as she picked up a foul every five minutes of game action. Bailey said she was surprised by the physicality of Wingate after dominating her opponents in high school and overseas competition. It wasn't a concern for Hatchell, though, who told Bailey and fellow freshmen Jaelynn Murray before the game that they'll be a force to be reckoned with once they adjust to the college game.

"Y'all are the freshmen dynamic duo in the country," Hatchell told them.

Murray didn't have a flashy game Wednesday, posting six points and six rebounds in 26 minutes. She also committed five turnovers, and she said she got lost at times with the calls on the court. But constant reinforcement from Cherry and Kea guided the freshmen along. And in time, they'll have the stat lines to max their talent.

"They have the passion to be great ..." Hatchell said. "I just pray every night that they don't get hurt."

That's been the overriding narrative for the Tar Heels as of late. Leah Church, another promising freshman, is due to return from a foot injury in the next few days, while Watts — who joined Kea on the All-ACC team — hopes to play in either Monday's exhibition against Mount Olive or UNC's Nov. 10 opener against Hampton after missing the final five games of 2017. Even Cherry had an injury scare on Wednesday, holding her head after Bailey tripped onto her during a post-up.

Cherry was OK, though, as Hatchell hopes most of her players are come December.

"If we get everybody out there, the full arsenal, we could be really good ..." Hatchell said. "We're really close to being a really great team."

Call it the "Bailey effect."

@CJacksonCowart