UNC Women's Basketball Takes On Louisville In Battle For First Place

The UNC Women's Basketball program is 7-1 in their last eight games, including a 5-1 start in conference play, leading to a battle for first place on Sunday.

North Carolina v Notre Dame
North Carolina v Notre Dame / Michael Hickey/GettyImages

The UNC Women's Basketball program has been grinding out wins as of late, winning seven of their last eight matchups and off to a 5-1 start in ACC play with the lone loss coming at Florida State just over a week ago. That start includes an impressive road, top-25 victory over Notre Dame.

The Tar Heels have been using defense to fuel this run, which is a staple of Courtney Banghart and one that we have seen from the UNC Women's Basketball program throughout her tenure. All of that leads to an important matchup in Carmichael Arena on Sunday afternoon when No. 13 Louisville comes to town.

Sunday, Jan 21. UNC WBB vs UL. 13-5. ACC Network. 849. 441. . 2:00 PM. 16-2

The Cardinals are 16-2 overall on the year with a perfect 5-0 record in conference play. Louisville and the Tar Heels share one common opponent that they each lost too: Connecticut. The Cardinals lost to the Huskies 86-62 while North Carolina lost 76-64. The other loss is to Alabama, who is currently 15-5 on the season.

Outside of those two losses, the Cardinals have looked like a team on a mission though and destined to be in position to win the ACC. Their last four wins have been by 17 or more points with an average margin of victory of 21.2 points per game.

North Carolina's victory over Georgia Tech on Thursday, combined with other teams near the top of the conference suffering upset losses, leads to this matchup Sunday which will be for first place atop the ever loaded Atlantic Coast Conference.

Key to Victory for North Carolina

As we know, Courtney Banghart coached teams feed off defensive energy and effort. It is exactly how the Tar Heels upset the Fighting Irish in South Bend just two weeks ago. North Carolina held Notre Dame to 30 points below their scoring average and 31.1% shooting for a team averaging over 49% on the season.

That same effort on the defensive end will be key in providing the Tar Heels with an opportunity to gain control of first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Louisville isn't as good offensively as the Irish, but they are still effective, averaging 46.3% from the field this season and 32.7% from beyond the arc to lead to 75.6 points per game.

In their two losses though, the Cardinals have shot 40.9% and 41% against Alabama and UConn, respectively while also struggling from beyond the arc with 3-14 (21.4%) and 4-15 (26.7%) performances. The Huskies were able to out-rebound the Cardinals as well and both Alabama and UConn forced Louisville into turning the ball over, leading to more points off turnovers.

Every team has a weakness and in both losses the Cardinals have shown when they can't find the basket and are forced into turnovers, it becomes a problem. This plays into North Carolina's favor who feasts off defense. Key to upsetting the No. 13 Cardinals on Sunday in Carmichael? Make life difficult for Louisville on the offensive end. .

Something to Watch For

In the three most recent games versus Georgia Tech, Virginia, and Florida State, it seems the UNC Women's Basketball program is relying too much on Alyssa Ustby and Deja Kelly to produce on the offensive end of the floor. In their 70-62 loss to the Seminoles, Kelly scored 23 points and only Ustby had an off-night with only six. In the recent wins over Georgia Tech and Virginia, Kelly has scored 27 points in each game while Ustby contributed 15 and 17, respectively.

That offensive production from those two is certainly important and the Tar Heels would love to see them continue that. However, having only two players produce a majority of the offense isn't exactly key to success, especially against top teams. It'll be interesting how North Carolina plays on the offensive end on Sunday, and moving forward.

If Ustby and Kelly can continue to produce their scoring averages, and be efficient in the process, while also adding another scorer or two to the mix, it could improve the ceiling on this year's team. Who can be the one to step up? Lexi Donarski? Maria Gakdeng? Both are known for their effort on the defensive end of the floor, but providing more scoring than they have as of late will be something to keep an eye on.

Projected Starters

No. 1 Alyssa Ustby (Sr. 6-1) 12.7 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 3.6 apg
No. 5 Maria Gakdeng (Jr. 6-3) 9.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 0.6 apg
No. 10 Reniya Kelly (Fr. 5-7) 2.5 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.1 apg
No. 20 Lexi Donarski (Gr. 6-0) 10.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.2 apg
No. 25 Deja Kelly (Sr. 5-8) 16.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.1 apg