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The Daily Tar Heel

Three keys to UNC women's basketball's showdown with No. 17 UConn

11302023_richards_SPORTS-WBBALL-vs-SC-14.jpg
UNC senior guard Deja Kelly (25) runs down the court during the women's basketball game in Carmichael Arena on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023.

Following a home matchup against UNC Greensboro on Wednesday, the No. 24 North Carolina women’s basketball team will travel to Connecticut to take on No. 17 UConn in the Naismith Hall of Fame Women's Showcase in Uncasville.

As a team that has lost to every ranked program it has faced this season, the Tar Heels will need to capitalize against a UConn group that's sporting its lowest ranking in 30 years. While the Huskies have lost to elite teams like No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 N.C. State and No. 5 Texas, they will still likely be a challenge for a UNC team struggling to score — North Carolina is averaging the second-worst marks in the ACC in points per game.

Here are three keys for the Tar Heels to secure their first ranked win. 

Stop Aaliyah Edwards and Nika Mühl

Paige Bueckers has scored in double figures in every game this season except one. She dropped 31 and 27 points in losses to top-3 teams UCLA and N.C. State, respectively. Simply put, even when the Huskies as a whole have been stopped, the junior guard hasn't slowed down.

While the Tar Heels can work to contain Bueckers' dynamic scoring, they will likely find more success in stopping her supporting cast. Although Edwards and Mühl will pose many challenges, both players should be easier for North Carolina to control.

Behind Bueckers, Edwards is the second leading scorer on the team, averaging 15.4 points per game. She will likely battle with senior guard Alyssa Ustby and junior center Maria Gakdeng in the paint, who will have to work cohesively to combat her physicality at the rim.

Although Mühl only averages 7.3 points per game, she is UConn’s floor general, averaging 4.3 assists per game. Last season, Mühl broke Sue Bird's program record for single-season assists with 284. Limiting Mühl’s passing abilities should lower Bueckers and Edwards' scoring potential. To do this, the Tar Heels will have to control Mühl’s tempo and not be caught ball-watching, which will prevent opportunities for Huskie backdoor cuts.

Keep crashing the boards 

Although North Carolina lost by seven points to No. 1 South Carolina, a silver lining emerged: behind the frontcourt tandem of Gakdeng and Ustby, the Tar Heels are a formidable rebounding team. UNC out-rebounded USC 45-39 and held a Kamilla Cardoso-led Gamecocks squad to six offensive boards. While UNC struggled to score and only recorded six second-chance points, the Tar Heels were able to get off 11 more shots than South Carolina, in part due to their rebounding.

In the Huskies’ most recent loss to Texas, they struggled to control the glass, only pulling down five offensive rebounds while allowing the Longhorns to grab 16 and consequently record 24 more field goal attempts. Crashing the boards will help North Carolina in any scenario, but considering UConn's recent rebounding struggles, the Tar Heels should heavily focus on controlling the glass to retain as many possessions as possible.

Get the offense back on track

Of the eight shots UNC's bench players took against South Carolina, none of them connected, and North Carolina recorded zero bench points compared to South Carolina’s 10.

During UNC's three consecutive losses, the lack of meaningful bench minutes has been the latest chapter in a storybook of offensive woes. 

Whether it's dreadful 3-point shooting — at 24.5 percent for the season — missed free throws or repetitive shot selection, the Tar Heels have failed to find an offensive rhythm this season.

Considering that the Huskies average 75.9 points per game compared to North Carolina’s 67.3, all Tar Heels will need to lock in offensively to outscore the Huskies and clinch that elusive ranked win.

@_emmahmoon

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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