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Preview: Keys to No. 8 UNC women's basketball's matchup against No. 5 Iowa State

UNC women's head basketball coach Courtney Banghart celebrates at the beginning of a timeout at the game against Miami on Feb. 6, 2022 in Carmichael Arena. The Heels won 85-38.

After picking up its first ranked win of the year against No. 18 Oregon on Thursday, No. 8 UNC women's basketball is prepping for its most significant test of the season: a top-10 bout against No. 5 Iowa State.

If the Tar Heels hope to win the Phil Knight Invitational Championship and remain undefeated, they will have to play with a greater sense of urgency, push the pace and prepare for the star power of Ashley Joens and Stephanie Soares.

Push the pace

While UNC head coach Courtney Banghart has made it clear that it’s early in the season, and her team hasn’t got it all figured out yet. But they are sure about one thing — “generating turnovers is a key part of our identity.”

Against a team like Iowa State, UNC is somewhat undersized. This is especially clear in the low post, considering the 6-foot-6 frame of Soares. 

To combat this, UNC will have to rely on its speed.

The Tar Heels did just that against Oregon on Thursday, earning 14 points off of fast breaks. This was largely due to UNC’s defensive prowess, as North Carolina forced 18 turnovers that resulted in 17 points for the Tar Heels.

“When we put pressure on the defense before they get set, it allows everybody to shine,” Banghart said.

Prepare for Ashley Joens and Stephanie Soares

Joens, a two-time winner of the Cheryl Miller Award, is someone Banghart described on Saturday as a “top first-round draft pick for sure.”

“(We’re) dealing with her and her ability to stretch the floor,” Banghart said. “She’s incredibly physical in the low post. She’s a really dynamic, true 3-level scorer and dangerous all over the floor.”

Possibly the most threatening part of Joens’ game is her passing ability and movement off of the ball. In addition to averaging 22 points a game, Joens can draw attention to herself and dish the ball to her teammates — at a rate of about three assists per game.

One of those teammates who is sure to pose an additional threat to UNC is Soares. The senior put up a monster 23 points, 11 rebounds and 6 blocks against Michigan State on Thursday.

Banghart is confident in her team. On Saturday, she said the Tar Heels are used to being undersized in the low post.

“With what we’ve got, we feel really good about our speed and our toughness,” Banghart said. “And we’re gonna need it because she’s (Soares) one of the best post players we’ll see all year.”

Play with a sense of urgency

In a testament to the Tar Heels’ grit, UNC led for less than six minutes in its ultimate 85-79 win over Oregon. In the Tar Heels’ past two games, they’ve overcome halftime deficits, which is the first time UNC has done so in back-to-back games under Banghart.

When asked on Thursday what she learned about her team after narrowly prevailing over Oregon, Banghart pointed to North Carolina’s stagnant start to the game.

“We didn’t come out with the sense of urgency that I think they really have to understand that their success and their ranking warrants,” she said on Thursday.

The Ducks got out to a quick 7-0 lead thanks to their rebounding and early defensive pressure from Endyia Rogers. Against a Cyclone team that ranks top-15 in the nation in scoring offense, the Tar Heels can’t afford to come out flat again. 

“We’re still figuring out what our emphasis needs to be early in the game versus how we adjust throughout the game,” Banghart said. “It’s something we’re aware of. It’s something we’re trying to fix and just be attentive to. But as long as at the end of the 40-minute game we’re winning, I’m alright.”

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@dthsports |

Shelby Swanson

Shelby Swanson is the 2023-24 sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as an assistant sports editor and senior writer. Shelby is a junior pursuing a double major in media and journalism and Hispanic literatures and cultures.