UNC women’s basketball squad hoping transfer portal helps this season

UNC’s men’s basketball team might get a majority of the hoops attention at the school, but don’t overlook the uber-talented women’s squad.

After not making a single NCAA Tournament from 2016-2018, the Tar Heels have made the last four, including a trip to the second round last year against Ohio State.

Carolina should have another strong campaign this upcoming season, with team captains Deja Kelly and Alyssa Ustby headlining the returners. The Tar Heels also experienced what seemingly every team faces nowadays – loss of players to the transfer portal, headlined by the loss of Kennedy Todd-Williams.

What Carolina lost in Todd-Williams, they gained in Lexi Donarski and Maria Gakdeng.

Donarski, the Iowa State grad transfer, is ranked sixth on the ESPN Women’s Hoops’ Top 35 most impactful transfers list. The reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, who also averaged 13.2 points per game, will likely slot into Todd-Williams’ starting spot.

“A Cyclones mainstay is moving east after 95 starts, 13.2 points and 3.2 rebounds per game, plus a 2022 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year,” ESPN said about Donarski. “Tar Heels coach Courtney Banghart will lean heavily on that level of experience, and her backcourt, with Donarski joining Deja Kelly, has started 182 combined college games. Donarski’s 12.1 PPG last season was a career low, but if she recaptures the 41.1% 3-point shooting she had as a freshman, it will go a long way toward UNC replacing the production of graduate Eva Hodgson (41.7% on 3-point shooting).

Gakdeng will likely finish up her college career in Chapel Hill, as she is entering Junior year. Gakdeng, the 6’3″ forward/center and former McDonalds All-American, was named to the All-ACC Freshman Team in 2022. Her 1.8 blocks per game ranked third in the ACC last year.

“Gakdeng was one of the league’s best interior defenders immediately upon her arrival in the ACC,” ESPN said about Gakdeng. “Now she will just be protecting the rim in Chapel Hill instead of Chestnut Hill. The Tar Heels were already the fourth-stingiest defense in the conference. Now with Donarski and Gakdeng, they should be even tougher to score against. Gakdeng’s 1.8 blocks per game ranked third in the ACC, and her 11.3 points per game were second on the Eagles.”

It’ll be exciting to see how the two new transfers mesh with the rest of UNC’s starting lineup. Fans will get their first taste at the new-look Tar Heel squad on Wednesday, Nov. 8, as Carolina welcomes Gardner-Webb to Carmichael Arena.

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Story originally appeared on Tarheels Wire