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Preview: UNC women's basketball to host top-ranked South Carolina in ACC/SEC Challenge

UNC WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

Then-junior guard/forward Alyssa Utsby (1) shoots the ball at the women’s basketball Sweet 16 in the Greensboro Coliseum on Wednesday, March 23, 2022. 

The last two times the UNC women’s basketball team met South Carolina, it was do or die.

The Tar Heels' past two Sweet 16 appearances came in 2015 and 2022, and both ended in losses to the Gamecocks.

On Thursday, No. 24 North Carolina will look for revenge against top-ranked South Carolina in Carmichael Arena. For a UNC squad that's coming off two losses to then-No. 16 Kansas State and Florida Gulf Coast over Thanksgiving break, the border battle rematch can go one of two ways for the Tar Heels: a bounce-back upset victory, or a third consecutive loss.

Here are three things to know ahead of Thursday's ACC/SEC Challenge showdown.

South Carolina hasn't gone anywhere 

After being ranked No. 6 in the AP preseason poll, South Carolina has quickly moved up to its familiar No. 1 spot — last year, the Gamecocks' ranking never dipped below No. 1, going undefeated before falling to Iowa in the 2023 Final Four.

The Gamecocks have won by an average margin of 51.6 points this season,  even defeating a top-10 Notre Dame squad by 29. Last Friday, South Carolina steamrolled Mississippi Valley State in a 101-19 point victory — an 82-point margin. 

Behind players like center Kamilla Cardoso, who averages 16.8 points and 11 rebounds, the Gamecocks already have an advantage. Add four other players who average more than 10 points per game, and their depth is unmatched. In comparison, only two Tar Heels — senior guard Deja Kelly and junior center Maria Gakdeng — are averaging double figures.

UNC's slow start offensively

On Saturday, North Carolina suffered its first loss of the season against No. 16 Kansas State in its first ranked matchup. The next day, UNC fell to unranked Florida Gulf Coast by one point.

The two losses can be chalked up to inconsistent shooting.

With former McDonald's All-Americans coming off the bench, UNC has the talent to contend with South Carolina, but in each of the Tar Heels' closely contested games, poor shooting has been a problem. Against an unranked Davidson team, UNC shot about 65 percent from the free throw line, missing eight foul shots in the last quarter alone. Against Kansas State, the Tar Heels only made two of their 20 three-point attempts.

If the Tar Heels have any hope of beating a South Carolina team that averages over 100 points per game compared to the Tar Heels' average of 68.6, they will need consistent scoring at all three levels from more players than just Kelly and Gakdeng.

Electric Carmichael atmosphere 

While taking on the nation's top team, the Tar Heels will likely be surrounded by a sea of fans donning Carolina Blue. 

Tickets to Thursday night’s game in Carmichael Arena are completely sold out. Due to the demand for the game, the same lottery ticketing policy used for men’s basketball and football games for students were implemented for the first time to a women's basketball game.

The game will be televised nationally on ESPN at 7 p.m. On as big of a stage as it can get in November, all eyes will be on the Tar Heels as they look to pull off the upset.

@_emmahmoon

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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