UNC Women’s Basketball: Previewing the UConn Huskies

RALEIGH, NC - FEBRUARY 16: Deja Kelly #25 of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks on against the NC State Wolfpack at Reynolds Coliseum on February 16, 2023 in Raleigh, North Carolina. NC State won 77-66 in OT. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NC - FEBRUARY 16: Deja Kelly #25 of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks on against the NC State Wolfpack at Reynolds Coliseum on February 16, 2023 in Raleigh, North Carolina. NC State won 77-66 in OT. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images) /

The UNC Women’s Basketball team heads north for a “neutral site” matchup with the No. 17 Connecticut Huskies as part of the Hall of Fame Women’s Showcase.

Courtney Banghart’s UNC Women’s Basketball team is coming off a 15-point, 81-66 victory over in-state opponent UNC Greensboro this past Wednesday, a game sandwiched between two of the top programs in women’s college basketball. On the front end, the Tar Heels hosted No. 1 South Carolina in the SEC/ACC Challenge in a 65-58 loss in which they played the Gamecocks close.

Now for the back end of that challenge, which means heading north for a “neutral site” game against the No. 17-ranked UConn Huskies at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. If you can call it a neutral site… the venue is just 28 miles from the Huskies’ home, Gampel Pavilion.

The Huskies and Tar Heels both enter the game with three losses on the year, a spot that is unfamiliar for the 11-time National Champion Huskies, who haven’t won a Championship since 2016 as they have been dealt with a misfortune of injuries the previous three seasons, and this year is no different.

The UNC Women’s Basketball team enters with three losses, one to the aforementioned Gamecocks, and a 1-2 record in the Gulf Coast Showcase with losses to Florida Gulf Coast and No. 13 Kansas State.

It will be an eventful day full of great basketball at Mohegan Sun. No. 2-ranked UCLA plays No. 20-ranked Florida State at 12:00 PM, No. 11-ranked Utah versus No. 1-ranked South Carolina will follow at 2:30 PM, and the No. 24-rankedTar Heels and No. 17-ranked Huskies cap off the evening at 5:00 PM.

Key to Victory for North Carolina

North Carolina will need to attack the Huskies in a similar way they attacked South Carolina last week. The Tar Heels were aggressive defensively against the Gamecocks, which led to out-rebounding South Carolina on the boards and limiting star big Kamilla Cardoso to 2-5 shooting and just six points. The Huskies aren’t nearly as big as the Gamecocks are and can be an advantage for the Tar Heels.

UConn has struggled to score this year in a similar way that the Tar Heels have. The difference is the Huskies haven’t been as successful on the defensive end, a place where Courtney Banghart teams make their living (anyone remember 45-41 in Cameron Indoor a season ago?).

Against Texas, Connecticut turned the ball over 21 times, and the Longhorns took advantage, scoring 36 points off turnovers in a 12-point, 80-68 victory. The defense will be key to causing the Huskies problems offensively, and the Tar Heels need to take that defense and turn it into offense as often as possible.

A podcast breakdown with Site Expert Nick Delahanty and Contributor Jordan Falls of the Huskies and Tar Heels can be found beginning at the 52:45 mark of the episode linked above.

Something to Watch For

Connecticut has struggled to find their groove offensively, but that doesn’t take away from the talent that the Huskies have as 2021 National Player of the Year Paige Bueckers is still on the roster, coming off missing the 2022-2023 season with an ACL injury.

Eight games into the season, Geno Auriemma’s squad has struggled to find a way to learn to play with Bueckers again offensively. Combine that with the loss of Azzi Fudd to an ACL injury just 10 days into the season and Caroline Ducharme battling neck spasms, the Huskies are in the middle of trying to put the pieces back together. While they have struggled and are ranked the lowest they have been in more than 30 years, their three losses are to legitimate contenders (No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 NC State, and No. 5 Texas) and have all come outside the state of Connecticut.

Do the Huskies finally put together a solid performance on Sunday just 30 miles from home? Or does the UNC Women’s Basketball team cause more problems for the Huskies offensively and hand UConn their fourth loss before Christmas?

Expect Iowa State transfer and former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Lexi Donarski to draw the defensive matchup with Bueckers in an effort to limit the star player. In their three losses, the Huskies are giving up 83.3 points per game and only scoring 72. Meanwhile, in their five wins, UConn averages 81 points per game and only allows 55.

Putting together a great defensive performance and complimenting it with a solid offensive performance will be the ultimate determining factor of the outcome on Sunday.

Projected Starters

No. 1 Alyssa Ustby (Sr. 6-1) 11.0 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 3.2 apg

No. 5 Maria Gakdeng (Jr. 6-3) 10.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 0.3 apg

No. 20 Lexi Donarski (Gr. 6-0) 10.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.2 apg

No. 24 Indya Nivar (So. 5-10) 6.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.0 apg

No. 25 Deja Kelly (Sr. 5-8) 16.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.6 apg

Next. UNC Women’s Basketball: Donarski leads Tar Heels to victory. dark

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