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Analysis: UNC women's basketball opens season against N.C. A&T

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UNC graduate guard Petra Holešínská (2) prepares to take a shot during a game against Clemson on Feb. 18, 2021. UNC beat Clemson 77- 64. Photo courtesy of Caleb Browder.

The North Carolina women’s basketball team will play its season opener against North Carolina A&T on Tuesday in Carmichael Arena at 4:30 p.m.

The Aggies finished last season with an impressive 14-3 record, defeating Howard 59-57 to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) championship. This year, the team will be competing in the Big South conference.

The Tar Heels finished eighth in the ACC last season with a 13-11 record, losing 82-71 to Wake Forest in the first round of the ACC Tournament.

Both teams feature experienced transfer students, talented first-years and outstanding sophomore returners. Here are three keys to take note of before tip-off.

Packing the paint

UNC ranked third to last in the ACC for perimeter defense last season, allowing their opponents to shoot 33.4 percent from three. In fact, it was the team’s inability to effectively contest long-range shots that eliminated the Tar Heels in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, when they fell to Alabama, 80-71.

But for now, the focus is on the Aggies, and the team is returning this season without Deja Winters, who transferred to Minnesota.

It was Winters who scored the clutch three as time ran out in last season’s MEAC title game, landing the Aggies a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

It was Winters who led the team in total scoring, averaging 14.1 points per game and making first-team All-MEAC.

And it was Winters who made 52 threes at a 34.7 clip last season, providing the vast majority of the Aggies’ long-range scoring volume. For context, the rest of the team combined for 43 threes on 176 attempts — a 24.4 percent clip.

If the Tar Heels don’t press up on the perimeter and instead focus on rim protection, the Aggies will certainly feel Winters’ absence. Their strongest perimeter shooter will likely be Kiana Adderton, a Francis Marion transfer who has shot 30.3 percent from three in her collegiate career.

Concentrating on defending the post also helps mitigate graduate guard Chanin Scott’s well-rounded game. Scott is an athletic two-way player who averaged 14.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.3 steals last season, doing it all on both ends of the floor for the Aggies.

Last season, Scott and Winters were the primary scoring options. With Winters gone, Scott will certainly look to shoulder more of that offensive role this season.

Improved long-range shooting

North Carolina evidently struggled from behind the arc last year. They took the fourth-most threes in the ACC but only converted 31.6 percent, ranking them 10th out of 15 schools.

Enter Carlie Littlefield.

The graduate transfer from Princeton has only improved her 3-point shooting throughout her collegiate career. She converted 35.1, 36.4 and 37.0 percent of her treys in her first three seasons for the Tigers, respectively. 

For context, North Carolina’s strongest 3-point shooter last season was easily Petra Holešínská, who led the Tar Heels with 56 threes. Holešínská shot at a 35.4 percent clip from three last season.

Heavy minutes for recruiting class

ESPN ranked UNC’s 2021 recruiting class as No. 3 in the nation, behind powerhouses South Carolina and UConn. Head coach Courtney Banghart will certainly look to give the young stars plenty of minutes in preparation for conference play.

The lineup, featuring Teonni Key, Kayla McPherson, Destiny Adams and Morasha Wiggins, will be pivotal to North Carolina’s success both this season and in future years. Familiarizing them with the college game as soon as possible may very well decide whether or not North Carolina makes a deep postseason run.

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Overall, a Tar Heels win that effectively showcases the highly-anticipated combination of young talent and veteran experience would be a promising start to a challenging season.

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com


Daniel Wei

Daniel Wei is a 2023-24 assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as a senior writer. Daniel is a junior pursuing a double major in business administration and economics.