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Friday August 12th

Preview: No. 24 UNC women's basketball looks to knock off No. 3 Louisville

UNC graduate guard Petra Holešínská (2) looks to pass the ball during a game against during a game against Louisville on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. UNC fell to the Cardinals 68-79. Photo courtesy of Jared Anderson.
Buy Photos UNC graduate guard Petra Holešínská (2) looks to pass the ball during a game against during a game against Louisville on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. UNC fell to the Cardinals 68-79. Photo courtesy of Jared Anderson.

The No. 24 North Carolina women’s basketball team (19-5, 9-5 ACC) will face ACC opponent No. 3 Louisville (22-2, 13-1 ACC) at home Thursday at 6 p.m.

The Tar Heels are looking to get back on track after suffering a narrow 66-61 loss to Virginia Tech on Sunday that snapped their three-game win streak.

The Cardinals, who will ride an eight-game win streak into Chapel Hill, pose a lofty challenge. They have dominated against in-conference opponents, with only one ACC loss this season at the hands of No. 4 N.C. State, the conference’s top team.

Here are three things the Tar Heels must focus on to pull off the big upset at home.

Defend the perimeter

As one of the top 3-point shooting teams not only in the ACC but also the nation, Louisville generates a significant amount of its offense from downtown. The Cardinals take an average of 17 3-pointers per game and connect on 37.4 percent of those attempts, which puts them at second-most in the ACC. 

The UNC guards will have their work cut out for them defending against Louisville’s lethal 3-point shooting. It will be critical for any chance of knocking off the nation’s third-ranked team.

In the Cardinals' two losses, they’ve shot, at best, 18 percent on 3-pointers while their opponents held them to just two makes from long range.

Louisville guards Kianna Smith and Hailey Van Lith, along with forward Emily Engstler, each shoot greater than 35 percent from beyond 3-point range while attempting at least 58 3-pointers on the season.

Look for defensive stalwarts and sophomore guards Alyssa Ustby and Kennedy Todd-Williams to defend Louisville’s 3-point marksmen and play a critical role in the Tar Heels’ upset bid.  

Force turnovers 

The Tar Heels are at their best when they don’t have to create their offense in a half-court setting and, instead, can get easier transition points or mismatch opportunities after forcing opponent turnovers. 

In their 14 conference matchups, the Tar Heels are undefeated when they score 20 or more points off turnovers. When they fail to force turnovers or score 20 or more points off those giveaways, they boast a 1-5 record against in-conference opponents.

UNC will need to build its offense off turnovers against the suffocating Louisville defense, which limits opposing offenses to 53.9 points per game, the second-best mark in the ACC. But the Tar Heels will also need to create offense off turnovers to avoid working against the Cardinals’ half-court defense and to keep up with their high-scoring offense, which averages just under 73 points per game.

Look for Ustby and Todd-Williams, the Tar Heels’ leaders in steals, to play a key role in forcing turnovers and then quickly initiating offense in transition. 

Kelly continues scoring spree 

In addition to creating offense off turnovers, the Tar Heels will need sophomore guard Deja Kelly to continue her recent run of high-scoring performances. 

After a rough scoring stretch from late January until early this month, Kelly got back on track offensively by scoring 18 and 17 points in UNC’s wins against Miami and Pittsburgh, respectively, while contributing 17 in a losing effort to Virginia Tech. Kelly also shot 38.9 percent from 3-point range during that stretch.

If the Tar Heels have any hopes of pulling off an upset, they’ll likely need Kelly to carry over her impressive scoring streak into the matchup with the Cardinals.

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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