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Women's basketball preview: Terps ready for showdown with No. 10 UNC

The women kickoff the ACC portion of their schedule with a clash against No. 10 North Carolina


The No. 8 women's basketball team (12-1) opens ACC play with a trip down to Chapel Hill on Sunday for a showdown with No. 10 North Carolina (12-2). With four ACC teams currently ranked in the top 10, it's a game that despite being so early is expected to be very significant to the race for the conference title later on.

The Tar Heels' two losses this season came to No. 4 Tennessee and No. 24 Arizona State, the latter of which was in overtime. However, the Heels have won seven straight, including wins over No. 18 Nebraska and No. 13 South Carolina.

The Terps, meanwhile, have not been truly tested since their 72-55 loss to No. 1 UConn back on Nov. 15. They also haven't played on the road since a Nov. 23 bout with Towson, and will likely face a hostile crowd down at Carmichael Arena.

North Carolina with be without familiar face Sylvia Hatchell -- the second-winningest coach in NCAA women's history -- on the sidelines, as she's had to step away from her coaching duties to battle leukemia, which she was diagnosed with in October 2013. In her place will be Associate Head Coach Andrew Calder.

UNC is led by a trio of freshman after bringing in a monster recruiting class, the centerpiece of whom is phenom guard Diamond DeShields. DeShields is averaging 15.1 ppg, while rookie guard Allisha Gray is averaging 14.8. The duo is balanced by freshman forward Stephanie Mavunga, who is averaging 13.7 points and 10 rebounds per game. But it doesn't end there. Sophomore forward Xylina McDaniel is adding 12.9 points and 6.4 rebounds a game, while junior Danielle Butts and freshman Jessica Washington are both averaging over seven points per game.

As you can see, the Tar Heels are extremely young, and don't have a single senior on their roster. The Terps are going to need to look to exploit this inexperience and rely on the power of their own veteran players, the leader of whom of course is senior Alyssa Thomas. Thomas, a national player of the year candidate, is having just about as good of a start to a season as one can have, averaging 17.6 points and 11.2 rebounds a game and currently enjoying a streak of 12 straight double-doubles. To top it all off, she already has two triple-doubles this season.

Freshman guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough may not have the pedigree of UNC's rookies, but she's having a great season so far in her own right. Averaging 11.1 ppg off the bench and the most recent recipient of the ACC Rookie of the Week award, it will be interesting to see how she and starting freshman point guard Lexi Brown respond in their first big road game.

Guard Brene Moseley is adding 8.6 points off the bench, Laurin Mincy is averaging 8.1, and center Alicia DeVaughn is averaging eight points and 5.5 rebounds. The Terps are going to want to exploit DeVaughn's size down low, as she's at least an inch taller than everyone on North Carolina's roster.

Maryland holds a +17.2 rebounding margin this season over opponents while the Tar Heels own a +7.8, so the battle of the boards will be key to the Terrapins continuing to have success. Turnovers will also be key -- UNC is forcing almost 23 a game, which is something the Terps tend to struggle with when they play aggressive, fast teams.

Game-time: 3 p.m. Sunday

How to watch: The game will air on ESPNU and will also be available on ESPN3.

How to listen: Maryland Sports Radio Network at 1300 AM (Baltimore) and 570 AM (Washington).