The UNC women's basketball team won 76-46 over Elon University in Carmichael Arena last Friday. But the 30-point victory wasn't all smooth sailing for the Tar Heels.
First-year Malu Tshitenge led the way in scoring, finishing with a game-high 18 points and 10 rebounds – six of which were on the offensive glass.
North Carolina started the game off slow, turning the ball over four times in the first quarter and shooting only 3-13 from the field. Head coach Courtney Banghart said the defensive effort from Elon was not something the Tar Heels had seen this season.
“I just trusted them to settle into the game a little bit,” Banghart said. “We haven’t seen that pressure in a while, we’ve been mostly focusing on our play on the defensive side of the ball. We just had to get used to it and play through it. Its good this early in the year to have that adversity.”
UNC's head coach said she would’ve liked her team to execute better on grabbing both defensive and offensive rebounds, but she praised the effort of Tshitenge. The 6-foot-3 forward averages 15.8 points and 10.5 rebounds per game and has now notched a double-double two games in a row — she collected 15 points and 16 rebounds against Charleston Southern.
With all of the early success in Tshitenge's first season as a Tar Heel, it has seemed like the her ascent to the next level has been without a hitch. But Tshitenge said her success is just a testament to all of the hard work put into the preseason and of the adversity that most people don’t see.
“It was a struggle at first,” Tshitenge said. “But at the end of the day, my teammates and coaches never really brought me down, they just kept picking me up. I made mistakes, millions of mistakes. But they didn’t let those mistakes get the best of me.”
Tshitenge’s coaches and teammates said her ability to acknowledge her mistakes and work to fix them is what has allowed her to be so successful thus far. Her drive to get better and take advantage of everything the program has to offer gives Banghart hope that she’ll only continue to get better.
“She comes with purpose every day to get better," Banghart said. "She doesn’t let moments waste. She’s a great example of if you don’t let moments waste, you’re going to get really good here.”
As the season progresses and the Tar Heels begin to face opponents with more height, Tshitenge’s size and role as a rebounder will likely be even more heavily relied upon, especially with the acknowledged rebounding struggles.
“We just need to have more effort on the offensive glass,” Banghart said. “And defensively we just haven’t bought into how important securing defensive rebounds is.”
Despite the weaknesses exposed in the opening quarter, the rest of the game showed the team's promise. With the all the talent that left after last years’ season, the Tar Heels needed some of their new players to rise to the occasion. And Tshitenge is doing just that.
“I look at her and I see a lot of hope,” Banghart said. “I think we can continue to build her game.”
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