A big-time rivalry for the UNC women's basketball program set to renew in Raleigh

Courtney Banghart and the UNC women's basketball program are ready for a big test as they head to Raleigh to take on NC State.

Jumpman Classic: Oklahoma v North Carolina
Jumpman Classic: Oklahoma v North Carolina / Grant Halverson/GettyImages
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After a disappointing loss to Virginia on Sunday afternoon, the UNC women's basketball program looks to bounce back against one of its biggest rivals.

2272. 15-6. ACC Network. 18-2. . 8:00 PM EST. 441. Thursday, February 1, 2024. UNC NCST WBB

It will be another tough battle for the Tar Heels, as they'll face the No. 5-ranked NC State Wolfpack in the first of two meetings between the two teams this season.

You could make the case that the loss against Virginia was the Tar Heels worst outing of the 2023-2024 season, as nothing seemed to click for them after a strong first quarter of play. Courtney Banghart's team should be highly motivated heading into this one, especially with how their last outing went.

NC State has been one of the best teams in the country this season, as they've ascended into the top of the national rankings. Their two losses came at the hands of conference foes, as Virginia Tech defeated them in buzzer-beater fashion while the Miami Hurricanes secured a double-digit victory over the Wolfpack in Coral Gables.

This will be the 118th meeting between the two programs, as 106 of those contests have had at least one of the teams ranked. On Thursday night, we'll have a top-25 showdown between these two in-state rivals for the 19th time in matchup history.

North Carolina will look to win its first game in Reynolds Coliseum since 2019.

Key to Victory for North Carolina

In order to win this game, the UNC women's basketball program MUST get Deja Kelly and Alyssa Ustby going early.

For Kelly, the Tar Heels seemed to be running the offense away from her to start the Virginia game, as the likes of Reniya Kelly, Ustby and Lexi Donarski carried the scoring load. However, the offense fizzled out, and Deja Kelly simply couldn't get in a rhythm.

The UNC women's basketball program must make it an emphasis to get the ball in Deja Kelly's hands early and often, as she not only needs to be a scoring presence but also could be a huge factor in distributing the basketball as well.

When Kelly is going, the offense just seems to click. Her ability to put the ball in the basket opens up opportunities for others, as the Tar Heels need to find a way to get her open looks throughout. The same goes for Ustby, who has the ability to be a true force in the paint.

Something to Watch For

The Tar Heels have been dealing with some depth issues, especially at the guard position. With Kayla McPherson out for the season and Paulina Paris still dealing with an undisclosed lower body injury, Banghart doesn't have much depth on the bench to provide the likes of Reniya Kelly, Deja Kelly and Lexi Donarski some much-needed breathers.

Let's remember: they are capable of playing 40 minutes, but it doesn't always pan out over a long season. The wear and tear does get to you.

Reniya Kelly has really asserted herself of late, as she's coming off another career performance. She's played over 32 minutes in each of the last two games, as this trend could be one that continues.

For the Tar Heels, they MUST avoid foul trouble. Indya Nivar has been a spark off the bench, but foul trouble has really hampered her minutes. Seeing how Banghart manages her backcourt rotation will certainly be something to watch over the next few weeks, as she'll want to have her best options as fresh as possible for the stretch run.

Projected Starters

No. 1 Alyssa Ustby (Sr. 6-1) 12.6 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 3.5 apg
No. 5 Maria Gakdeng (Jr. 6-3) 9.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 0.6 apg
No. 10 Reniya Kelly (Fr. 5-7) 4.3 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.4 apg
No. 20 Lexi Donarski (Gr. 6-0) 10.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.2 apg
No. 25 Deja Kelly (Sr. 5-8) 16.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.3 apg