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South Carolina basketball vs North Carolina: Scouting report, prediction for ACC/SEC Challenge

COLUMBIA — South Carolina women's basketball is heading up Tobacco Road this week, starting with a ranked matchup against No. 24 North Carolina in the ACC/SEC Challenge.

The No. 1 Gamecocks (5-0) face the Tar Heels (5-2) in Chapel Hill on Thursday (7 p.m., ESPN) for the first time in series history. The programs have met 11 times, but all have been played on neutral sites. Every regular season meeting prior to this season was played in Myrtle Beach, and the three most recent matchups were in the NCAA Tournament.

South Carolina has won two of the last three meetings, beating UNC in the Sweet 16 in both 2022 and 2015. North Carolina's last win in the series was also in the Sweet 16 in 2014. The teams have not played in the regular season since 2013, and the Tar Heels lead the series' non-tournament matchups 6-2.

Deja Kelly anchors Tar Heels offense

North Carolina is a defense-forward team, but star Deja Kelly picked up where she left off after earning All-American honorable mention honors in 2023. The 5-foot-8 guard is averaging 16.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and two assists across the first seven games, and she put up a season-high 24 points in the Tar Heels' 65-64 loss to Florida Gulf Coast. Kelly's biggest weakness is efficiency: She is shooting just 38% from the field, and 63.5% at the free-throw line also leaves a lot to be desired.

Center Maria Gakdeng, a Boston College transfer, is UNC's only other player averaging double-digit points at 11.7 per game. She shoots a team-high 72.1% from the field. The Tar Heels haven't scored more than 75 points since their season opener against Gardner-Webb and were held under 65 in all three games at the Gulf Coast Showcase.

Gamecocks need rebounding dominance

South Carolina loves to flex its height advantage with 6-7 center Kamilla Cardoso and four players 6-3 or taller, but UNC is one of the few teams with the personnel to at least compete with the Gamecocks' bigs. The Tar Heels have five players 6-3 or taller on the roster, though 2023 No. 4 prospect Ciera Toomey, a 6-4 freshman, is redshirting the season to rehab an ACL tear suffered in high school.

North Carolina's top rebounder is Alyssa Ustby, leading the team with 8.4 per game. The Tar Heels are much stronger on the defensive glass, but that bodes well for South Carolina who ranks No. 1 nationally in defensive rebounds per game. The Gamecocks also lead all Power Five teams in offensive rebounds per game and rank first in rebounding margin.

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Outside shooting is key for both teams

The Tar Heels have badly struggled with 3-point shooting to start the season, currently hitting just 25.4%. Iowa State transfer Lexi Donarski leads the team shooting 34.2% beyond the arc, but no other player is completing above 30%. UNC shot below 15% on 3-pointers in two of its last three games, and it made 40% against Florida Gulf Coast but on just five attempts.

South Carolina's outside scorers have been more successful but still inconsistent. The Gamecocks are making 32.7% from 3-point range, led by Te-Hina Paopao shooting 54.5%. However, the team had its only game with less than 100 points when Paopao was out due to injury against South Dakota State, in part because it went 0-of-12 on 3-pointers.

Prediction

South Carolina 85, North Carolina 68: The Gamecocks have one of the most prolific offenses in the country, and North Carolina doesn't have the scorers to keep pace. What starts as a defensive battle opens up quickly when South Carolina get hot beyond the arc.

Follow South Carolina women's basketball reporter Emily Adams on X @eaadams6 and subscribe to The Greenville News for exclusive Gamecocks content: https://subscribe.greenvilleonline.com/offers.

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This article originally appeared on Greenville News: South Carolina women's basketball vs North Carolina score prediction