It’s a Wednesday morning matinee in Chapel Hill, with the No. 17 UNC Tarheels (2-0) hosting the Hampton Lady Pirates (0-1) at 11 a.m. ET (ACCNX).
For the second-straight season, the Lady Pirates are taking an early trip to the Carolinas for a tough test against a ranked opponent. Last year, Hampton headed to Columbia, SC to meet the top-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks. The Tarheels might not be as intimidating an opponent as the Gamecocks, but they still present a tall task for the Lady Pirates, projected to finish 13th out of 14 teams in the Coastal Athletic Conference (CAA).
For Hampton and 15th-year head coach David Six, the challenge of facing a Power 5 opponent on the road is exacerbated by the team’s inexperience. The Lady Pirates return only four active players from last year’s team, which finished 12-18 overall and 8-10 in the CAA. Hampton dropped the season opener last Tuesday, falling 76-46 at the Providence Friars. The Lady Pirates struggled to put the ball in basket or grab rebounds, a recipe for a resounding defeat. Senior wing Camryn Hill did her best to keep Hampton in striking distance, scoring a team-high 22 points.
On Sunday, UNC nearly joined the ranks of ranked teams that lost in the wild first week of the season. After amassing a double-digit advantage with a little more than two minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Tarheels allowed the Davidson Wildcats to cut the margin to two points by the end of the period—and begin dreaming of the upset.
Down the stretch, the Wildcats’ dream remained alive, as the Tarheels struggled to ice the game from the free throw line. Senior guard Deja Kelly, a career 78.4 percent free throw shooter, and grad guard and Iowa State transfer Lexi Donarski, a career 85.1 percent free throw shooter, both missed a pair from the line. The Tarheels did well to rebound the misses, with junior big Maria Gakdeng finally reversing the Tarheels’ free throw troubles with a two makes that set up UNC to survive with the 74-70 win. Kelly led the Tarheels with 18 points and seven assists, while Donarski and Gakdeng both added 15 points.
UNC head coach Courtney Banghart took an optimistic view of the Tarheels’ imperfect victory, saying, “For a relatively new roster, how they handled adversity is a good sign.” Presumably, she’ll expect a sharper performance from her squad on Wednesday. Led by senior wing Alyssa Ustby, who had a game-high nine rebounds on Sunday, the Tarheels should dominate the glass, turning defensive rebounds into quick transition buckets and offense rebounds into easy second-chance points.
Hampton Lady Pirates (0-1) vs. No. 17 UNC Tarheels (2-0)
When: Wednesday, Nov. 15 at 11 a.m. ET
Where: Carmichael Arena in Chapel Hill, NC
How to watch: ACCNX