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Friday February 3rd

Preview: Three keys for UNC women's basketball season opener against Jackson State

UNC sophomore guard Deja Kelly (25) drives the ball into the paint during a home women’s basketball game against Duke on Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, at Carmichael Arena.
Buy Photos UNC sophomore guard Deja Kelly (25) drives the ball into the paint during a home women’s basketball game against Duke on Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, at Carmichael Arena.

The No. 12 North Carolina women’s basketball team looks to start the season 1-0 as it faces off against Jackson State on Wednesday.

After a successful 2021-2022 season, UNC plans to get back into the NCAA Tournament and build on its first Sweet 16 appearance in seven years. In order to start the season off on a momentous note, the Tar Heels first have to handle the Tigers of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

The Tigers are coming off a 23-7 season with an undefeated conference record. They won the SWAC Tournament Championship for the second consecutive year, earning themselves a bid to the NCAA Tournament before losing in the first round to LSU.

The Tar Heels finished last season with a 25-7 overall record and went 13-5 in conference play. UNC had defining regular season victories against Louisville, Duke and Wake Forest before narrowly falling to eventual national champion South Carolina in the NCAA Tournament.

It is critical that the Tar Heels start the season with plenty of momentum going into conference play, as numerous ACC powerhouse opponents await the team.

Here are three keys to earning the win over Jackson State:

Use and defend the three-point game 

The Tar Heels averaged slightly under six 3-point field goals a game last season, with an overall clip of 31.3 percent. With almost all of its offensive weapons returning to the roster, UNC has massive potential to capitalize on its outside shooting this season.

Junior guard Deja Kelly and redshirt senior guard Eva Hodgson accounted for 96 of the Tar Heels’ 180 three-point field goals last season. First-year guard Paulina Paris also has the chance to make an impact behind the arc, as she totaled 80 triples last season at Saddle River Day School.

Last season, Jackson State finished with 130 total 3-point makes, with senior guard Dayzsha Rogan leading the way with 44 such field goals on the year. Juniors Miya Crump and Keshuna Luckett both returned to the roster for the Tigers this season, meaning all three leaders in 3-point field goals for Jackson State can threaten the Tar Heels on Wednesday.

Force and avoid turnovers

The Tigers were one of the best teams in the SWAC in terms of limiting turnovers last season, trailing only Arkansas-Pine Bluff for the lowest mark in the conference. UNC was equally productive in taking care of the basketball, as the team ranked third-best in the ACC with just under 14 turnovers per game.

With both teams playing a smart brand of basketball, it will be up to the Tar Heels to bring stout defensive pressure to frustrate the Tigers' offense with the hopes of coming out on top on Wednesday.

Create and limit offensive rebounding opportunities

The Tar Heels finished second in the ACC for offensive rebounds per game last season, averaging just over 14 per game. With a massive paint presence coming from junior forward Anya Poole and versatile junior wings Alyssa Ustby and Kennedy Todd-Williams, the Tar Heels have a great opportunity to create additional offensive plays from tap-outs and put-backs.

Jackson State finished first in the SWAC in offensive rebounding, averaging over 16 per game. The Tar Heels need to effectively block out Jackson State’s forwards and create overwhelming paint pressure through their star players.

If the Tar Heels can convert on these three keys, they will have a good chance to start the season 1-0 with substantial momentum to boost them through the rest of their non-conference schedule.  

@j_kidd03

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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