Expectations were exceeded for the UNC women’s basketball team throughout the first half of this season, as it remained undefeated for its first 13 games of the regular season.
Most preseason rankings had North Carolina well out of the top-25, so accomplishing this success early on after all of the doubt is nothing short of impressive. However, despite early success, the team has lost three of its last five conference games.
Granted, these losses came at the hands of the recently dominant No. 4 N.C. State, the storied No. 19 Notre Dame and the formidable No. 18 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. While the 27-point loss to the Wolfpack was certainly a big eye-opener for this team, UNC's efforts against the Fighting Irish should not go unnoticed as the team put up a hard-fought performance with a final score of 70-65. Despite these losses, it seems the program has found its footing after the disappointing loss against N.C. State and is without a doubt heading in the right direction.
With that being said, let's see how some of the individual efforts have impacted the team’s successes this season thus far.
An obvious start to this list is with the Tar Heels’ leading scorer and the undisputed offensive force, sophomore guard Deja Kelly. Averaging a stellar 17.9 points per game and being the leading scorer in almost half of the games this season, Kelly has stepped up in her breakout role on this team, building off of her performance during her first-year season.
While her abilities to dish out the ball to her teammates and to rebound were doubted at the start of this season, Kelly has definitely improved upon those aspects of her game as of late.
Sophomore guard Alyssa Ustby has perhaps been the team's best all-around player throughout the first half of the season. Leading the team in rebounds per game at 8.5 as a guard is incredible, and leading the team at two steals per game should be noted.
Ustby leads the team in double-doubles this season at seven of 18 games. Her ability to find an open teammate has also continually improved as the season goes on. There truly isn’t much to knock on her game aside from her decision-making when it comes to shooting. While she can be an efficient scorer, Ustby has the tendency to take a lot of unnecessary shots in the game.
Transfer guard Carlie Littlefield’s senior season has not yet lived up to the past years she had at Princeton. After averaging just over 13 points a pop in both her sophomore and junior seasons, Littlefield has regressed to just 8.8 points per game so far this year.
Although her performances earlier in the season against teams like Minnesota, UNC Asheville and Boston College were reminiscent of her earlier years, we haven't seen this level of production from her since.
Littlefield has been shooting an abysmal 21 percent from beyond the arc since her season-high 22-point outing against Boston College and even shot 1-7 from deep against the Eagles. There’s no doubt that she can return to her form as a valuable and impactful player for the team, but that will require some more out of her.
On a guard-heavy team, it can sometimes be hard to see the impact that some of UNC’s forwards have on the team’s success. This is especially so with sophomore Anya Poole. Poole is averaging 8.3 points and 7.3 boards so far this year, but her most impressive feat is quite possibly her 1.5 blocks per game, proving her impact on both ends of the floor.
In a tough and high-scoring conference like the ACC, it is imperative to have a rim protector like Poole. The only main knock on her game so far is her inconsistency. It seems her role as a scorer has been relieved by her fellow teammates since the start of the season due to her decreased volume in shooting. Her ability to rebound the ball has also been on and off.
Aside from that, there is certainly a bright future ahead for Poole on this young Tar Heel team.
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