“Defense was a really big emphasis this year,” Watts said. “It’s something my coaches have definitely helped me with and something I’ve been working on personally.”
UNC is a young team, much like last year. A primary difference this season is the depth of the bench, with this year’s recruiting class ranking No. 13 nationally. Twelve Tar Heels got playing time against Elizabeth City State, while North Carolina usually stuck to a six-player rotation last year.
And while teams typically empty their bench in exhibition games, it’s a good sign for a UNC team that was plagued with depth concerns a season ago.
“It’s good to have enough kids out there, so that we can do things that we want to do, like play transition and fast break ... not having to worry about getting in foul trouble and stuff like that,” Head Coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “We can play some basketball.”
Hatchell emphasized the development of the inside game for North Carolina. She said that’s the weakest part of the team’s game right now, especially considering redshirt senior Hillary Fuller is the only returning player in the frontcourt.
With the start of the regular season only days away, North Carolina’s younger players gained valuable experience in these exhibition games.
“Being out here, I’ve noticed that ‘Oh, I do have to shoot faster,’ or ‘Oh, I can swing this real quick when they close out too hard,’” first-year guard Olivia Smith said.
Smith’s improvement showed, as 18 of her 21 points came in the second half. She said while it has been tough, she is adjusting to the college game.
The Tar Heels look comfortable now, which is important for the long season ahead. And for a team with so many new pieces, chemistry is everything.