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Friday February 3rd

UNC women's basketball looks ahead to challenging schedule in new season

UNC Women’s Basketball team, puts their tag on the Sweet 16 spot after winning the second round of the NCAA Tournament against University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, on Saturday, March 21, 2022. Carolina won 63-45 to proceed to Sweet 16 round.
Buy Photos UNC Women’s Basketball team, puts their tag on the Sweet 16 spot after winning the second round of the NCAA Tournament against University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, on Saturday, March 21, 2022. Carolina won 63-45 to proceed to Sweet 16 round.

With nine top-25 matchups on the horizon, the No. 12 North Carolina women’s basketball team will certainly face its fair share of quality competition this season.

From trekking to Indiana’s raucous Assembly Hall to facing a loaded Louisville team looking to avenge a loss from last season, head coach Courtney Banghart and her core of juniors are set to face perhaps their toughest slate of opponents yet. 

With the season soon set to begin, the team is set to partake in a number of marquee games.

The first game of the season is on Nov. 9 at home against Jackson State. Then, the Tar Heels will play TCU, South Carolina State and James Madison before facing No. 20 Oregon for the Phil Knight Invitational in Oregon on Thanksgiving.

After a brief hiatus, North Carolina will head to Bloomington to take on No. 11 Indiana in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Dec. 1.

Following home matchups against UNCW, Wofford and South Carolina Upstate, the Tar Heels finish up their non-conference slate in Charlotte in the Jumpman Invitational against Michigan on Dec. 20.

From there, the competition increases in both difficulty and frequency as ACC play begins. UNC plays Florida State at home on Dec. 29. A few days later, North Carolina will travel to Blacksburg to face No. 13 Virginia Tech.

The Hokies eliminated UNC from the ACC Tournament last year in an overtime thriller, although Virginia Tech hardly received any minutes from ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley. Although last season’s top 3-point shooting team in the ACC won’t return leading sharpshooter Aisha Sheppard, UNC will have to prevent capable shooters Georgia Amoore and Cayla King from heating up.

After a quick trip down to Miami on Jan. 5, North Carolina’s next ranked conference matchup is against No. 9 Notre Dame at home on Jan. 8. The Tar Heels narrowly lost to the Fighting Irish last season in South Bend, when Notre Dame guard Dara Mabrey torched UNC for 24 points and shot 6-13 from downtown. 

Mabrey and key contributors Maddy Westbeld and Sonia Citron are three returning standouts UNC needs to watch out for against the Fighting Irish. After playing Notre Dame, North Carolina heads to Charlottesville to play Virginia on Jan. 12.

It will be interesting to see how the Tar Heels fare in their two rivalry matchups with No. 10 N.C. State on Jan. 15 and Feb. 16. UNC dropped both contests last year, but the N.C. State was led by center Elissa Cunane, guard Kai Crutchfield and forward Kayla Jones — none of whom return for the Wolfpack this year.

Nevertheless, N.C. State returns guard Diamond Johnson and wing Jakia Brown-Turner, both big scorers for the Wolfpack that will draw the most attention on defense. Four days after playing N.C. State, the Tar Heels have another rivalry game against Duke in Carmichael Arena.

UNC will then play Georgia Tech at home, Pitt and Clemson on the road and Virginia at home before facing No. 7 Louisville in Kentucky.

Last year, the Tar Heels upset then-No. 3 Louisville by one point in Carmichael Arena, which propelled them into the national spotlight. On Feb. 5, the Cardinals, led by First-Team All-ACC guard Hailey Van Lith, will get their chance for revenge.

However, Louisville won’t return two-way star forward Emily Engstler, so expect UNC junior wing Alyssa Ustby to make a bigger impact for this year’s matchup. Last year, Ustby was held to nine points on 4-13 shooting, making the Tar Heels rely offensively on 37 combined points from guards Deja Kelly and Kennedy Todd-Williams.

The Tar Heels’ last ranked game is at home against Virginia Tech on Feb. 23 and the regular season concludes on Feb. 26 at Duke.

@danielhwei

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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