No. 11 North Carolina is already on its way to surpassing preseason expectations, and coach Sylvia Hatchell believes the Tar Heels can keep rolling if their rebounding improves.
UNC (15-1, 3-0) will be tested on the road tonight when the team faces N.C. State (8-7, 0-3) in Raleigh.
N.C. State is has yet to win a game in its first three conference matchups, but the Wolfpack played well last week against then-No. 3 Duke, when it cut the lead to four in the last minute before Duke pulled away for a 67-57 win.
Hatchell said her players will not underestimate N.C. State, despite the Wolfpack’s early season struggles.
“They know it’s State,” Hatchell said. “(N.C. State is) very athletic, and they’re better than they were last year.”
The Tar Heels swept the season series against N.C. State last season and have beat the Wolfpack in 21 of the last 25 meetings.
UNC will fight to claim a presence under the rim — it is 12-0 this season when it hauls in more rebounds than its opponent. N.C. State has lost all three games in which it was outrebounded.
Still, Hatchell is not satisfied with her team’s performance on the boards thus far.
“I want us to rebound better,” Hatchell said. “We can rebound better than we are right now, and we did against Maryland, the leading rebounding team in the country.”
Senior forward Krista Gross, who leads the team with an average of 9.6 rebounds per game, said UNC doesn’t expect the Wolfpack to roll over.
“They always show to play us — everybody shows up to play us, which is good, because it means they’re coming for us,” Gross said. “We go right back at them.”
UNC has trailed its opponent at halftime in just six games, coming from behind to win five.
The Tar Heels’ only loss came at then-No. 16 Tennessee, where UNC was outrebounded 54-40 and lost 102-57.
Gross and Hatchell agreed that the Tar Heels haven’t hit their ceiling yet.
“We can even play better than we are.” Hatchell said. “We can shoot better from the foul line, we’re getting really good shots around the basket — we just have to finish a lot of those.”
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