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Analysis: Three takeaways for UNC women's basketball from the 2023 ACC Tipoff

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UNC senior Alyssa Ustby answers questions at the 2023 ACC Tipoff media event in Charlotte, North Carolina on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. —  With eight new faces on the 15-person roster, the UNC women’s basketball team looks a lot different this year. 

However, amongst the changes within the preseason No. 16 Tar Heels, the basic goal of the team remains the same: overcome the postseason hump and reach the Final Four.

Here are three takeaways from the team’s appearance at the ACC Tipoff:

New pieces bring experience and depth 

Ahead of the 2023 season, the Tar Heels added three transfers and five first-years to the roster — a stark contrast to last season when sophomore guard Paulina Paris was the only new face on the squad. 

With the departure of key starters like Kennedy Todd-Williams, who was second on the team in scoring, and Eva Hodgson, who sank 50 three-pointers last year, head coach Courtney Banghart looked to the transfer portal this past offseason. The veteran players joining the Tar Heels includes a former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in graduate guard Lexi Donarski as well as a former McDonald's All-American in Stanford transfer Indya Nivar.

Banghart has called this year's group “the most competitive team” she’s coached at UNC. 

“Good additions to an already good team,” Banghart said of the new faces. “So that equals depth, and not just depth, but experienced depth, right? So, you know, certainly, it's fun to go to practice every day.”

Add that to the presence of senior leaders and first-team All-ACC picks like Alyssa Ustby and Deja Kelly, and no question remains about the depth of the Tar Heels — something that will be vital in winning tough and physical matchups down the line. 

“Just being able to have that depth, knowing that there probably won't be a drop-off, I think that that's the biggest thing,” Kelly said. “Whenever subs come in, we know what we're getting because everyone's so damn good in their role.” 

Chemistry is key 

With so many new faces, the team has worked to mesh quickly and build chemistry via offseason group bonding activities like pickleball, white-water rafting and team dinners.

“As competitive as we are inside the lines, we've really worked hard to be vulnerable outside the lines with one another, so that we can come together with that talent and focus on us,” Banghart said. 

Not only have the exercises and activities helped to unify the Tar Heels — they directly translate into better on-court performance. 

“[We do] little things to show each other that we care about each other off the court,” Ustby said. “Because ultimately, that transfers onto the court because that chemistry is just continuing to build, and we're all very understanding of how important that is.” 

A challenging schedule lies ahead

North Carolina will face an extremely challenging gauntlet of teams right from the start of the season. In the Gulf Coast Showcase, the team has the potential to match up against preseason No. 3 Iowa, directly followed by a home showdown against preseason No. 6 South Carolina. 

From there, the slate only gets more demanding, with big-ticket games against UConn,  Virginia Tech and Notre Dame — all preseason top-10 teams — on the calendar.  

The lineup serves as a testament to how far the team has come under Banghart and will, in the team's mind, go a long way in preparing the Tar Heels for postseason success. 

“The schedule is great,” Banghart said. “I mean, our goal is — it's not about Courtney Banghart, right? If it was, we would schedule differently, and I'd win 25 games a year every year, and probably have a quicker route to the Hall of Fame. My legacy is the humans that I raised with all my team and my family, and so the way I'm raising this team is putting them in a competitive environment so we can be as prepared as possible for March and April.” 

@PeaceGwen

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@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com


Gwen Peace

Gwen Peace is the 2023-24 assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as a senior writer. Gwen is a sophomore pursuing a double major in media and journalism and peace, war and defense.