As students across Tobacco Road prepare for Saturday's Duke-UNC game, many may be overlooking another rivalry bout between the two schools that's right on the horizon. The North Carolina women’s basketball team will face off against Duke this Thursday, with the Tar Heels (16-6, 7-4 ACC) looking for their third straight ACC victory.
Here are three things that UNC can do to overcome the Blue Devils (11-10, 5-5 ACC) in Durham.
Continuing offensive productivity
In Sunday’s game against Clemson, the Tigers scored 72 points but were unable to match the offensive prowess of the Tar Heels, who put up 86, their third highest-scoring game of the year, to get the win.
Two of North Carolina’s offensive stars in the game were junior center Janelle Bailey and senior guard Taylor Koenen. Bailey, who was just named ACC Player of the Week for the second time this year, scored 23 points in the victory over Clemson, going 9-16 from the field and 5-6 from the foul line. The junior has scored over 20 points in her last two ACC games.
Koenen had a similarly impressive offensive showing against the Tigers, scoring 26 points for the Tar Heels. In addition to going 11-17 from the field, Koenen went 4-8 from the 3-point line, which is tied for her second-highest 3-point total of the season.
The rest of the Tar Heels also provided crucial scoring against Clemson, with redshirt senior guard Madinah Muhammad and senior guard Shayla Bennett scoring 14 and nine, respectively. First-year forward Malu Tshitenge added to the Tar Heels' impressive offensive showing, scoring nine points.
North Carolina’s offensive productivity has led to its highest average points-per-game tally in the last four seasons at 75.8, and the team will have to keep up the offensive onslaught if it wants to match a Duke side that has scored more than 70 points in eight games this season.
Defensive improvement continues
Against a Duke team that has proven its ability to score, the Tar Heels will have to be consistent defensively in order to prevent a late-game scare against the Blue Devils.
North Carolina’s defensive acumen has been striking this season, with opponents shooting just 37.9 percent from the field in 2019-20. Compare that to the previous season, when opponents shot 41.5 percent and put up 71.4 points per game.
Bailey has been pivotal in this defensive transformation, averaging 10 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game in addition to her 15.6 points. Koenen and Tshitenge have also been important on defense and on the boards. Koenen has averaged 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game, with Tshitenge averaging 7.4 rebounds per game.
The Tar Heels will look to limit leading scorer Haley Gorecki, who averages 18 points per game, as well as Leaonna Odom, who averages 14.1.
Road games in the ACC
Despite the renaissance the team has experienced under first-year head coach Courtney Banghart, it cannot be denied that the Tar Heels' road record leaves something to be desired.
The Tar Heels are 2-4 away from Carmichael Arena, with three of those losses coming in ACC play. UNC boasts a 7-4 record in the ACC and has just seven more conference games on the horizon. With four of those being on the road, the team cannot afford to lose steam away from home as the postseason approaches.
Muhammad said the team has to be “prepared to battle every night.” This attitude will be crucial on Thursday night if UNC hopes to defeat the rival Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium.