With an at-large NCAA Tournament bid impossible, the North Carolina women’s basketball team enters the conference postseason this week with everything to play for.
In head coach Courtney Banghart's first year, the Tar Heels finished the regular season 16-13 overall and 7-11 in the ACC, earning them a No. 12 seed in the ACC Tournament. That gives UNC a first-round matchup against No. 13 seed Wake Forest.
The Tar Heels are entering the ACC Tournament a month removed from their last win and riding a seven-game losing streak. Over the course of the skid, North Carolina has lost by an average of more than 13 points, with four of those losses being by 18 or more.
UNC has flashed its talent at times this season, most notably when giving undefeated N.C. State its first loss of the season earlier this year. Since then, though, the team has gone just 4-10. In the last three games, the Tar Heels have been without their leading rebounder and scorer, Janelle Bailey, who is a game-time decision on Wednesday.
UNC will be looking at the play of Bailey, senior guard Taylor Koenen and first-year forward Malu Tshitenge to lead them to a run in the ACC Tournament.
Bailey, a first-team All-ACC selection, is averaging a near double-double with 14.9 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game. She's also shooting 41.6 percent from the field and over 80 percent from the free throw line and has been a rock for the Tar Heels all season. Her presence on the inside will be something that the Tar Heels are going to need if they plan on having a deep tournament run.
UNC will also look to the leadership of its captain, Koenen, whose year of improvement earned her honorable mention All-ACC honors. She has upped her field goal and 3-point percentages this season (41 percent and 32.9 percent) as well as her scoring average (14.6).Koenen is also a threat on the boards, averaging 6.9 rebounds per game each of the last two seasons.
Tshitenge, an All-ACC Freshman Team selection, is averaging 10.6 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game on 58 percent shooting. She has been one of the more consistent contributors on the team, and her play staying at the same level or elevating is going to be a major part of a potential conference championship push.
Additionally, while she didn’t receive any conference honors, guard Shayla Bennett is one of the most important pieces for North Carolina on the offensive side of the ball.