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Saturday January 28th

UNC women's basketball uses strong play to climb to No. 6 in AP Poll

<p>UNC junior guard Deja Kelly (25) drives toward the basket during the women's basketball game against TCU on Nov. 12, 2022, in Carmichael Arena. UNC beat TCU 75-48.</p>
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UNC junior guard Deja Kelly (25) drives toward the basket during the women's basketball game against TCU on Nov. 12, 2022, in Carmichael Arena. UNC beat TCU 75-48.

Following a dominant performance in the Phil Knight Invitational, the North Carolina women’s basketball team has continued its hot start to the season, boasting a 6-0 start for the third time in the last four years.

The Tar Heels have had strong offensive performances to this point, outscoring their opponents by an average of 25.5 points per game. At the Phil Knight Invitational, they recorded come-from-behind wins against Oregon and Iowa State, both of which were ranked in the top 25. As a result of these wins, North Carolina jumped to No. 6 in the most recent AP Poll.

Following the exit of guard Carlie Littlefield, redshirt senior guard Eva Hodgson has served as one of the team's primary leaders so far this year.

Hodgson has started every game this season and is quickly becoming a vital component of the Tar Heels’ offense. She is averaging 13.3 points per game and her explosive fourth-quarter performance sparked a comeback victory against then-No. 18 Oregon in the Phil Knight Invitational semifinal.

In addition to Hodgson's productivity, the team has been paced by junior guard Deja Kelly, who is leading the Tar Heels with 17.8 points per game. In a game when North Carolina trailed by 17 points, Kelly's 29 points helped the Tar Heels pick up a statement victory over then-No. 5 Iowa State to secure the Phil Knight Invitational title.

While the Tar Heels have five typical starters in Hodgson, Kelly, and juniors Kennedy Todd-Williams, Alyssa Ustby and Anya Poole, the bench has given the team a lift when called upon. 

Sophomore forward Destiny Adams has only started one game this season but is bringing major contributions to the Tar Heels’ game plan. She put up a season-high 23 points in UNC's game against South Carolina State and is a huge defensive threat to North Carolina’s opponents, as demonstrated by her 15 steals and eight blocks through her first six games. 

Joining her as another contributor off the bench is first-year Paulina Paris, who has made an immediate impact since first taking the floor in a Tar Heel uniform. The New York native is averaging just 4.7 points per game this season, but by playing nearly 19 minutes per game so far, the highly-touted high school prospect is gaining experience that will be beneficial moving forward. 

Head coach Courtney Banghart did not deny that the team has room to improve as conference play and other ranked matchups approach. While it is hard to predict any specific changes the team needs to make before these outings, Banghart hopes her team can stay hungry and eager to conquer the challenges that lie ahead. 

Overall, a 6-0 start is an encouraging sign for a team looking to solidify its spot as one of the nation's best. Dominant wins over Jackson State, TCU, and South Carolina State helped the Tar Heels gain momentum entering the Phil Knight Invitational, and after winning the tournament, the team will have another tough test when it heads to Bloomington to take on No. 5 Indiana in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge on Thursday.

Only time will tell if the Tar Heels will be able to sustain their strong start to the year, but regardless of when the winning streak comes to an end, the team will look to use the lessons to continue to move the program in the right direction.  

@j_kidd03

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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