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Visiting Locker Room: Talking North Carolina Tar Heels with Tar Heel Blog

Learning more about the Buckeyes’ next March Madness opponent from a site that knows them well

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 18 Div I Women’s Championship - St. John’s vs North Carolina Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Ohio State women’s basketball team is back for their NCAA Tournament Second Round game. That matchup is with the North Carolina Tar Heels of the ACC. While everyone knows the North Carolina basketball triangle as a premier region of the United States for college basketball, it’s not always a team Buckeyes fans get to see live and in person.

To learn more about the Tar Heels, Land-Grant Holy Land reached out to Al Hood of Tar Heel Blog. Hood talks about the stars Ohio State will need to adapt for and how the Tar Heels handle the press, among other topics.

Land-Grant Holy Land: An area that Ohio State’s struggled with over the past two seasons is strong presence in the paint. Forward Alyssa Ustby seems to fit the bill. What makes her so dangerous and how have teams like Duke neutralized the forward this season?

Tar Heel Blog: The Duke game in the ACC Tournament was a bit of an outlier for Ustby, and there’s a good reason for it: she was hurt in the Virginia game Feb. 2 and the ACC Tournament game was only her fourth back from that injury.

In a lot of ways Ustby is still getting her bearings. That said, Duke’s defense this season is going to make anyone struggle, and they really took advantage of the fact that Carolina was playing in back to back games while they had a night off. No one shot well in that game, but yes, Utsby perhaps struggled the most as she had her worst performance and had two players outrebound her.

You have a question later that also explains Utsby’s performance, Deja Kelly isn’t afraid to go in and throw up a shot to draw contact. Teams usually oblige, but if not, she at least draws enough attention to where Utsby is able to take advantage. Duke limited a lot of that in their third try, especially at the end of the game.

LGHL: Something the Buckeyes haven’t struggled at this season is pressure in the full court press. Ohio State is sixth in the nation in turnover margin and recently used it masterfully to come back from down 24 points to the Indiana Hoosiers. How much has UNC seen the full court this season and how have they responded?

THB: It’s going to be a new thing for UNC. I watched a bit of that first round game against James Madison and saw that full court helped Ohio State come back and avoid the upset, and it did make me concerned because no one in the ACC really defends that way.

The toughest defender is Duke, but they don’t tend to go full court so much as just in-your-face all the time. Generally, the Tar Heels take care of the ball alright, only 14 turnovers a game, and actually force more than they commit by about four a game. The key will be Kelly, if she plays a clean game and moves the ball around Ohio State’s press isn’t going to work too well.

LGHL: The Tar Heels had two Big Ten games scheduled this year, struggling in both to the Michigan Wolverines and Hoosiers. Was it a case of just having off nights at the wrong time or were they able to exploit something in the Tar Heels to be effective?

THB: The Indiana game can be chalked up to a few things, first, clearly IU is really good this year as you well know, and it was Carolina’s first game after playing two games in four days in Portland. A lot was made of the men’s team struggling with that trip, but the women’s team did the exact same thing-spent a week away from home and essentially stopped over in Bloomington before going back.

To add to it, they had two huge wins with Iowa State and the Oregon Ducks, so playing IU was a bit of a let down. Indiana played great defense in the first half to build a 16-point lead and the Tar Heels basically checked out: Something they have had a problem with over the course of the year.

Michigan actually won thanks to blitzting the Tar Heels early in the first quarter, putting the Tar Heels...on their heels. If there’s a lesson to be gained from both games, it’s this: Don’t let Carolina hang into a game. They truly don’t think they are ever out of a game, and that 7-0 run late on Saturday was just another example of this. Ohio State needs to make shots early, force turnovers, and then just keep the hammer down. Otherwise, if Carolina leads or is close, it’ll stay close.

LGHL: The toughest player on North Carolina seems to be guard Deja Kelly. Break down Kelly’s game a bit and what does she do well?

THB: The funny thing about Kelly is that if you just look at her points stats, she shouldn’t get the attention she does. She only shoots 37% overall, 28% from three, and yet she’s the points leader on the squad. So what is it about her? Look at the free throw attempts. The reason her field goal percentage is so low is that she is not afraid to go in, get contact, and get your team in foul trouble.

Kelly has 182 free throw attempts on the season and the next closest player to her is Kennedy Todd-Williams at 94. Add that to shooting at a 71% clip, and that’s how you get her to be your points leader, and that’s how you get the game winning shot on Saturday that was an “and one.”

It’s what Ohio State should be cautious about with an aggressive full court defense, as she knows how to use that aggressiveness against you and rack up fouls. She also draws so much attention that opens up the space for everyone else, hence why Utsby has so much room to hit at a 50% clip on the season.