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Three keys for No. 24 UNC women's basketball to upset No. 5 N.C. State on Thursday

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Then UNC junior guard Deja Kelly (25) shoots a three pointer during the women’s basketball game against NC State on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, NC. UNC fell to N.C. State 66-77.

The No. 24 UNC women’s basketball team will travel to Raleigh to face No. 5 N.C. State on Thursday. 

After falling to Virginia, 81-66, on the road earlier this week, the Tar Heels will be looking to bounce back from a snapped four-game winning streak.

However, North Carolina will be met with some stiff competition. After failing to rank in the AP poll's preseason top-25, N.C. State has forced itself back into the national conversation. The Wolfpack secured early season wins against No. 11 UConn and No. 6 Colorado — both top-3 teams in the nation at the time. Even with its early season success, January has been a tumultuous month for N.C. State, as the team has suffered its only losses to then-No. 13 Virginia Tech and an unranked Miami team. 

With March Madness on the horizon, this upcoming game will showcase the potential of both teams down the stretch. Here are three keys for the Tar Heels to achieve a potential upset over one of their in-state rivals:

Confronting N.C. State on both sides of the floor

Not only does the Wolfpack have one of the best offenses in the ACC — averaging 77.8 points per game — but it also has one of the best defenses, only allowing 59.1 points per game.

All five starters for the Wolfpack average double figures with junior guards Aziaha James and Saniya Rivers leading the scoring effort. Additionally, the Wolfpack can score all over the floor and are shooting over 34 percent from behind the arc.

N.C. State is also sound defensively, coming in at No. 2 in points allowed per game in the ACC. Against Colorado, the Wolfpack won by 18 while holding their opponent to a stifling 60 points17 less than Colorado’s average. 

It’s safe to say the Tar Heels will find difficulties on both sides of the floor against the Wolfpack's potent offense and smothering defense. 

Establishing a bench presence 

To attempt an upset, the Tar Heels will have to stop solely relying on their veterans — seniors Deja Kelly and Alyssa Ustby — to lead the scoring effort. When UNC has pulled off upsets against teams like No. 14 Notre Dame and No. 16 Louisville, the bench has scored over 15 points behind double-figure performances from sophomore guard Indya Nivar. 

Over the Tar Heels’ last two games, the bench has only contributed 11 points combined. While UNC managed to pull off a last-minute win against Miami without much of a bench presence, Virginia scored eight more bench points on Sunday to help the Cavaliers upset the Tar Heels. 

North Carolina is a team that can contend with some of the best programs in the nation, but only when its bench comes alive.

Get back to the basics

Against Virginia, North Carolina had one of its worst defensive performances of the season. The Tar Heels let the Cavaliers score 81 points — almost 21 points above their season average. According to head coach Courtney Banghart's estimations following the loss, the Tar Heels were undisciplined in one of every three possessions. 

To contend with the Wolfpack, the Tar Heels will have to get back to the basics: honing in on lapses in its man-to-man coverage, avoiding lazy fouls and improving its ball-screen defense.

In every upset UNC has pulled off this season, the team has held each of its opponents to under 70 points. To mitigate N.C. State’s offense, North Carolina will have to apply pressure early, crowd the post and protect the perimeter.

If the Tar Heels do this, a win in Reynolds Coliseum — or as Banghart has previously called it, a "small gym" — could be well within their reach.

@_emmahmoon

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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