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Preview: UNC women's basketball awaits Ohio State's full-court press in second-round matchup

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UNC junior guard Deja Kelly (25) speaks during a press conference after the women's basketball game against St. John's during the first round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday, March 18, 2023. UNC beat St. John's 61-59.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — At this point in the season, Courtney Banghart isn’t worried about how her team can be better. She’s just focused on the next matchup.

“When you get to March, you focus on literally the team,” the UNC women’s basketball head coach said. “So, it's very little about me teaching them how to grow our offense and defense. It's literally completely obsessed with what Ohio State does.”

On Monday at 4 p.m., the No. 6 seed Tar Heels will take on the No. 3 seed Buckeyes on their home court in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Ohio State exploded out of the gates this season for a 19-0 start, but the team has gone 7-7 since then.

Here are three things to watch for in Columbus as North Carolina looks to advance to the Sweet 16.

Taylor Mikesell’s 3-point shooting

The First Team All-Big Ten selection is tied for fourth in the country in 3-point field goals made as of Saturday, shooting at an impressive 40.6 percent clip. Mikesell has the green light to let it fly from outside, accounting for 36.5 percent of Ohio State’s 3-point attempts this year.

Expect junior guard Kennedy Todd-Williams, UNC’s best perimeter defender, to try to contain Mikesell, who has hit five or more 3-point shots six times this season.

“If I’m guarding them, I want to be able to hold them down to their numbers and not let them see daylight,” Todd-Williams said. “That definitely is my role on this team, to lock down their best offensive player and just to get them out of rhythm.”

Ohio State’s full-court press

The Buckeyes average 11.4 steals per game, the 11th most in the country. They also rank sixth in turnover margin thanks to an aggressive full-court press that they frequently implement.

“We are aware of their full-court pressure that has disrupted a lot of teams,” UNC junior forward Alyssa Ustby said. “So with that in mind, we want to be very cognizant about how we move together.”

North Carolina’s robust guard room has taken care of the ball for the most part, but there have been times this season when its younger players have struggled against full-court pressure. Banghart compared Ohio State's style of play to Duke's. 

Having played the Blue Devils three times this season, she knows her team is familiar with the aggressive style of defense. On the flip side, the Buckeyes are aware of UNC’s guard strength, so it will be important to note how each team adjusts over 94 feet.

“Obviously we just want to make it tough for the guards to score,” Ohio State forward Taylor Thierry said. “We want to pack the paint, so it's not easy for them to get a post feed in there.”

Cotie McMahon’s physicality

When asked about what stood out in McMahon’s game, Banghart had high praise for the Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

“She's like LeBron James in a lot of ways,” Banghart said. “She's really physical. If you put her in football pads, she'd be a tight end. So her physicality is part of what you're guarding in that way.”

McMahon averages a team second-best 14.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Her likely matchup will be Ustby, North Carolina's most versatile frontcourt player, and that battle could be a key factor in deciding the game.

It’s clear that McMahon isn’t afraid of the big moments. While most might think placing so much trust in a first-year can be a liability, Banghart acknowledged it as a strength. 

“She's playing fearlessly, partly because I'm not sure she entirely knows what she’s doing. And that's a beautiful thing for a (first-year),” Banghart said.

@danielhwei

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@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com


Daniel Wei

Daniel Wei is a 2023-24 assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as a senior writer. Daniel is a junior pursuing a double major in business administration and economics.