It’s difficult to beat a good team three times in one season.
But, as fate would have it, the No. 18 North Carolina women’s basketball team will once again face No. 13 Duke on Friday. Five days removed from their last meeting — where UNC completed its regular season sweep of its rival at Cameron Indoor Stadium — the Tar Heels will have to oust the Blue Devils to advance to the ACC Tournament semifinals.
Here are three keys for the Tar Heels to come out on top in Greensboro.
Make frequent substitutions
Duke boasts the league’s deepest team, with 11 players averaging over 13 minutes per game and no starter usually playing more than 30. Duke head coach Kara Lawson often sidelines all five players at once to ensure the Blue Devils have fresh legs on the court at any given time.
Although UNC head coach Courtney Banghart’s arsenal isn’t as expansive, her eight-player rotation has been prolific.
The Tar Heels recently saw their roster get back to full strength, with junior forward Alyssa Ustby and redshirt senior Eva Hodgson returning from injury. UNC’s guard room is its forte, with first-year guards Kayla McPherson and Paulina Paris often splitting minutes with Hodgson.
Hodgson’s catch-and-shoot specialty makes her a dependable floor spacer, as she drained four triples in Thursday's win over Clemson. Conversely, McPherson and Paris provide more two-way versatility but lack Hodgson’s veteran experience. If Hodgson doesn’t heat up early on, expect McPherson or Paris to sub in.
Duke is also well-rested from earning a bye, while the Tar Heels played Clemson yesterday. In order to keep pace with Duke’s depth, generous substitutions may prove crucial.
Limit unforced errors
The Blue Devils’ length and athleticism make them the ACC’s best defense. On Sunday, they forced North Carolina to commit 21 turnovers. North Carolina’s 45 total points was a program record for lowest points in a win, but it’s fair to assume Banghart would have preferred cleaner play from her team.
Taking care of the basketball is one of UNC’s strengths, as the team's turnover margin ranks first in the conference. While the physicality in Sunday’s bout made some slip-ups inevitable, some errant mistakes could’ve been avoided — particularly from North Carolina’s rookies. For instance, on a fastbreak opportunity, Paris tried to zip a flashy lefty behind-the-back pass, but it sailed out of bounds.
The past two meetings between these teams have both been slugfests, and Friday will likely be no different. Considering the intensity that both programs play with, several turnovers are bound to happen — but it’s up to the Tar Heels to control how many will be unforced.
Contain Shayeann Day-Wilson
In the first matchup, guard Day-Wilson torched the Tar Heels for 24 points, going 7-13 from the field and 3-5 from downtown. Day-Wilson is only Duke’s third-leading scorer, but her ability to create space off the dribble and elevate into a jumpshot is arguably the team’s best. Day-Wilson has only averaged 4.7 points over her last six games, so she’s overdue for a breakout performance.
It’s equally important to consider that junior guard Kennedy Todd-Williams, UNC’s best defender, will be primarily assigned to Duke’s All-ACC first team guard Celeste Taylor. Todd-Williams held Taylor to six points on 2-10 shooting on Sunday, with Taylor committing a season-high nine turnovers. In their first matchup, Taylor scored two points.
Duke averages the ACC’s fourth-lowest points per game. If the Tar Heels limit the impact of Taylor’s supporting cast — starting with Day-Wilson — the tall task of conquering Duke a third time suddenly becomes more doable.
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