In its final home game of the regular season, the No. 22 North Carolina women’s basketball team will face a tough test when it takes on No. 9 Virginia Tech on Thursday.
When the two teams squared off on Jan. 1, the Tar Heels narrowly fell to the Hokies, 65-68, in Blacksburg.
Despite losing their first three conference games of the season, the Tar Heels have been able to improve their conference record to 10-6. UNC ranks sixth in the ACC. Virginia Tech is in third with a 12-4 conference record.
In preparation for Thursday’s game, here are the three main keys for North Carolina to secure a win.
Look to Deja Kelly
Kelly has been the heartbeat of the Tar Heels' offense all season, averaging a team-high 16.7 points per game. In UNC's last matchup with the Hokies, Kelly led the Tar Heels with 21 points.
The junior has been the Tar Heels' leading scorer in four of the past five games and has averaged 19.8 points per game during this stretch.
Not only can Kelly shoot the ball, but she has also improved her playmaking by averaging a career-high 3.3 assists per game.
In order for the Tar Heels to keep up with a high-scoring Virginia Tech team, Kelly will need to continue her role as the team's premier playmaker.
Rely on supporting cast
Following a series of injuries to starters Eva Hodgson and Alyssa Ustby, head coach Courtney Banghart has been forced to get creative with assorting new lineups. Despite these challenges, the Tar Heels' bench has risen to the challenge.
Redshirt first-year guard Kayla McPherson and junior forward Alexandra Zelaya have both been inserted into the starting lineup and have been productive. McPherson, who missed over two years of basketball with lower-body injuries, has made an instant impact by averaging 10.3 points per contest.
Sophomore forward Destiny Adams, a valuable weapon off the bench, has seen an uptick in playing time recently, averaging over 23 minutes in the past five games.
Against the physical Hokies, the Tar Heels will need each player to rise to the occasion when called upon.
Lock down on defense
In order to prevail against a Virginia Tech team that averages 73.9 points per game, the Tar Heels will need to tighten up on the defensive end.
In the last meeting between these two teams, Georgia Amoore scored 24 points and Elizabeth Kitley, the reigning ACC Player of the Year, scored 13. Amoore and Kitley are the Hokies’ top scorers and will certainly be the focal point of Banghart's defensive game plan.
This task could prove to be difficult for the Tar Heels if they were to remain without Ustby, who leads the team in rebounds, steals and blocks. After missing the past five games due to injury, she hinted on Instagram that she might be nearing a return to the court — which would give UNC its defensive anchor.
While the Tar Heels are almost guaranteed to make the NCAA Tournament for the third year in a row, a quality win over the Hokies could serve as a good resume booster with just one week left in the regular season.
@dthsports | email@example.com
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.