The Daily Tar Heel

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Sunday February 5th

Preview: UNC women's basketball returns familiar faces in the front court

UNC sophomore forward Anya Poole (31) looks for an open pass during the quarterfinals of the ACC Women's Basketball Tournament against Virginia Tech at the Greensboro Coliseum. Virginia Tech won 87-80 in overtime.
Buy Photos UNC sophomore forward Anya Poole (31) looks for an open pass during the quarterfinals of the ACC Women's Basketball Tournament against Virginia Tech at the Greensboro Coliseum. Virginia Tech won 87-80 in overtime.

The frontcourt for the North Carolina women's basketball team features three returning Tar Heels, all of which are upperclassmen. 

Although the team doesn’t have any first years or transfer players in the front court, the familiar faces – who helped the team to a 25-7 overall record and third place finish in the ACC – will be key contributors for the Tar Heels, especially after graduating forward Jaelynn Murray.

Here's a look at UNC's forwards for the 2022-23 season:

Anya Poole

The Tar Heels’ front court is led by junior Anya Poole, who started all 32 games last season. In those 32 starts, the 6-foot-2 forward averaged 7.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. She finished the season ranked eleventh in the ACC in total rebounds and second on the team in rebounds per game, behind junior Alyssa Ustby. 

Poole jumped out to a fast start last season, scoring a season-high 17 points on 7-10 shooting against Charlotte in the second game of the season. She also added nine rebounds, helping the Tar Heels to a dominant 89-33 win.

In the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year, Poole scored eight points while going 4-5 from the field against Arizona. She also pulled down six rebounds, which helped the Tar Heels’ come away with a 63-45 win over the Wildcats.

Alexandra Zelaya

When Poole got into early foul trouble against South Carolina in the Sweet 16, it was junior forward Alexandra Zelaya who stepped in and scored a career-high 10 points. Zelaya shot 4-6 from the field and also grabbed two rebounds in UNC's narrow loss. 

Zelaya averaged 1.8 points and 2.1 rebounds per game coming off of the bench in 28 total games during the 2021-2022 season. Her breakout performance in one of the biggest games of the year last season is something the Tar Heels will hope to build on.

In the Jan. 27 matchup against Duke, Zelaya played 21 minutes and scored seven points, helping the Tar Heels to a comfortable 78-62 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Zelaya was a force on the boards last year, posting six-rebound games against Appalachian State, Syracuse and Notre Dame. 

After her performance at the end of the season, Zelaya’s usage and minutes will be something to look out for this year – and something North Carolina hopes she can replicate.

Over the offseason, head coach Courtney Banghart said Zelaya has spent a lot of the time in the gym. Banghart believes Zelaya will add key depth to the roster and become a prominent stretch shot maker.

Malu Tshitenge

Malu Tshitenge is the lone senior forward on the team this year and will look to use her experience to help the team. Tshitenge has seen a reduced role on the team after a breakout first season in 2019, coming off the bench full-time last season.

The 6-foot-3 forward played in 26 games, averaging 2.2 points and 1.9 rebounds. 

In her senior year, Tshitenge will aim to provide leadership and depth to an experienced Tar Heels’ squad with high expectations. 

As the Tar Heels begin the season, Banghart hopes Poole can continue her consistent play and expand her range and become a versatile threat this season, while also leaning on Zelaya and Tshitenge for support off the bench.

@mdmaynard74

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com  

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