Coming off an upset victory over No. 4 Notre Dame and a win against Virginia, the No. 22 UNC women’s basketball team is preparing for a rivalry matchup against No. 11 N.C. State on Sunday.
N.C. State has lost three of its last of five games, with the team's most recent loss coming on Thursday to Florida State. After N.C. State swept the Tar Heels last season, the team is looking to redeem itself and add another important conference win to their record.
In the hunt for UNC’s third ACC win, there are three key points the Tar Heels must keep in mind during this top-25 matchup. The Tar Heels must be strong on defense, use the Wolfpack’s poor ball movement to their advantage and prepare for the leadership and talent of Diamond Johnson and Saniya Rivers.
Slow the Wolfpack's ball movement
Despite averaging nearly 14 assists per game, the Wolfpack has struggled to consistently move the ball throughout the season. In losses against UConn, Duke and Boston College, the Wolfpack averaged a mere eight assists and more than 17 turnovers.
In their upset win against Notre Dame, the Tar Heels' 3-2 zone defense was effective, forcing 19 turnovers. The Tar Heels average almost 17 points off of turnovers per game, and this trend must continue if they are hoping to come out on top on Sunday.
Disrupt N.C. State's shooters
While N.C. State’s struggles to move the ball successfully will help the Tar Heels, UNC can’t rely on the Wolfpack’s stagnant ball movement on its own. They must also disrupt N.C. State’s shooting.
This was the key to wins against Notre Dame and Virginia, games in which North Carolina held the opponent to a field goal percentage of under 32 percent.
In their most recent game against UVA, the Tar Heels put on an all-around defensive effort — recording eight blocks and nine steals in comparison to the Hoos’ two blocks and four steals. The Tar Heels also forced 21 turnovers, and will need to carry the same defensive intensity into Sunday’s matchup against the Wolfpack.
Prepare for Diamond Johnson and Saniya Rivers
Despite having an ankle injury earlier in the season, Johnson poses a significant threat to the Tar Heels and leads the Wolfpack in points, three pointers and assists. The junior is ranked as the No. 24 player in the country by ESPN and won the ACC Sixth Player of the Year award her sophomore year.
In her last 3 games, Johnson has averaged 13 points and over two assists. Her ability to lead the offense will need to be shut down with intense ball pressure if the Tar Heels hope to limit the Wolfpack’s points.
Sophomore Rivers, a transfer from South Carolina’s national championship team, leads the Wolfpack in steals and blocks. In N.C. State’s loss to Florida State on Thursday, Rivers led the team with 12 points, in addition to having four steals and a block. Her defensive and offensive abilities will surely pose a challenge that the Tar Heels must be prepared for.
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