The No. 17 UNC women’s basketball team is on a rampage of rivalries as the Tar Heels prepare to face off against No. 13 Duke on Thursday, Jan. 19.
UNC head coach Courtney Banghart only recently remembered Duke was on her radar, and she’s prepared for another rivalry matchup.
”I had said (after the Virginia win), ‘Well we’ve got a big one coming up and then we got a big one down the road,’ and my SID said, ‘That’s the next one.’ I was like, ‘Oh,’" Banghart said. "So I don't really look that far ahead. But yeah, so I hear we’ve got Duke on my drive and I’ll get focused on them.”
Coming off upset wins against No. 11 N.C. State and then-No. 4 Notre Dame, UNC team seems prepared to face off against the Blue Devils.
But it just might be a close one.
After losses to Miami, Florida State, and Virginia Tech, UNC pulled out a win with a dominant second half against the Fighting Irish. The N.C. State upset came after sophomore forward Destiny Adams led a scoring charge in the fourth quarter, which resulted in UNC outshooting N.C. State 25-15 in the final period for the 56-47 win. However, up until those last couple of minutes it was neck-and-neck.
And the UVA win? Another fourth-quarter rally.
UNC’s victories haven’t been decisive. They’ve been late-stage wins. They’re solid wins, and the program is coming off of a lot of positive momentum from their three-game winning streak. But looking at their performance against other top teams, North Carolina will likely be under a lot of stress to perform up to the last second on Thursday evening.
Duke isn’t much different. The Blue Devils are also coming off of late-stage wins against Georgia Tech and Clemson, pulling away for double-digit leads only in the third and fourth quarters of play.
UNC boasts a roster of high scorers compared to the Blue Devils. Junior Deja Kelly, currently ranked No. 5 in the ACC for scoring, stands alongside juniors Kennedy Todd-Williams and Alyssa Ustby in the top 15 ACC scorers. Their offensive strategy may seem flawed as of late, especially given a season-low in shooting percentage and points in the N.C. State game, but they have the players to pull off a big win.
The Blue Devils' Celeste Taylor, Duke’s top scorer, has been seemingly responsible for keeping up the energy on both sides of the court in recent games. Compared to UNC's more well-rounded roster of scorers, this could fare in favor of the Tar Heels on Thursday night.
Both teams fare relatively the same in scoring averages. Duke currently averages 69.9 points per game versus UNC’s 73.9. However, Duke boasts a 6-0 conference record on the season, whereas the Tar Heels are 3-3.
UNC’s new defensive mindset seems to be effective, and it’s evident in their more recent games. Banghart has often gone to a 3-2 zone defense strategy in the second half of games. This worked well to limit scoring in matchups against the Fighting Irish and N.C. State. Wolfpack head coach Wes Moore specifically pointed to his team's struggles against the North Carolina zone in his postgame remarks on Sunday.
UNC’s defensive strategy, and its ability to switch between man and zone coverage, is increasingly cohesive and dynamic. This active defense will be the key to beating out the Blue Devils.
Coming into the matchup, the Tar Heels are on a winning period versus Duke. UNC swept Blue Devils last season with 74-46 and 78-62 victories.
UNC is coming off of a winning streak of big upsets, and that’s definitely a place of motivation. The desire to keep that streak alive will be crucial to keeping the program competitive.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.