In her second season with the Tar Heels, head coach Courtney Banghart will rely on both her experienced players and some new faces in the frontcourt. The women’s basketball team is looking to improve on last season's 16-14 record following a season of massive change.
Banghart’s debut season at the helm featured post players who proved themselves around the rim. The Tar Heels finished second in the ACC in points per game, and forward Malu Tshitenge ranked 15th nationally in offensive rebounds per game. This surge of offensive prowess in the frontcourt will likely continue, considering this year’s roster.
Junior forward Jaelynn Murray, who is coming off a knee injury that resulted in her redshirting her third year with UNC, will return to the Tar Heels. Banghart has described Murray as the heart of the team — and her connection with center Janelle Bailey is a big part of the frontcourt’s chemistry.
Bailey will return to her traditional No. 44 jersey this year after playing as No. 30 last season in honor of her injured teammate. The 6-foot-4 senior was named first-team All-ACC by the Blue Ribbon Panel last season and was an honorable mention selection by the league's coaches. Bailey was also a top-10 scorer in the ACC, averaging 14.5 points per game.
Offensively, sophomore Tshitenge is sure to be a vital asset. She shot 58 percent from the floor in the 2019-20 season and averaged 7.4 rebounds per game. The team will look to her down low, giving Tshitenge plenty of opportunity to build on a strong first year.
Two highly sought-after recruits are also joining the Tar Heels' group of bigs — and they are the cornerstone of the team's future as Banghart’s first recruiting class at North Carolina. Forwards Anya Poole and Alexandra Zelaya were both top-100 recruits in the country — No. 49 and No. 98, respectively, according to ESPN. A lot of pressure will be on these first-years whose reputations precede them.
While in high school, 6-foot-4 Zelaya led her team to two 5A Arizona state championships in her junior and senior year. Zelaya brings a championship attitude to the Tar Heels, one that the program will need going forward. The Arizona native was ranked 22nd nationally at her position and named to two All-Arizona teams.
Poole is also coming off of a successful high school career, having been a five-star recruit and named first-team All-State. HighSchoolOT named Poole North Carolina Player of the Year in May. She averaged a double-double in her senior year, putting up 16 points and 12 rebounds per game. The Tar Heels will look to her to help dominate the boards on both ends of the court.
UNC proved it could fill the scoring column last year, as the Tar Heels averaged 73.1 points per game. The returning frontcourt players, Bailey and Tshitenge, contributed a combined average of 25 points in those games. This year, with the offensive talent of the newcomers and the bench, the Tar Heels will likely increase the points coming from their frontcourt.
Between a talented returning group and an impressive recruiting class, Banghart is sure to be looking forward to the season. These post players will be key building blocks in the foundation of Banghart's future at UNC.
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