Tar Heels advance to WNIT championship
When Georgetown star Sugar Rodgers stood up after being fouled by UNC’s Xylina McDaniel and shared a few choice words with the freshman forward, it was clear that the outburst had been brewing all game.
A referee hit Rodgers with a technical foul with four minutes to play in North Carolina’s 63-48 preseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament semifinal victory against Georgetown on Wednesday night.
Rodgers, who dropped 35 points on Delaware in the quarterfinal round, had been frustrated all day by UNC’s swarming defense and shot just 25 percent from the field.
UNC didn’t play the most appealing basketball, but its defense overcame the offense’s 35 turnovers and 37 percent shooting to out-scrap the Hoyas for the win.
“We’ve worked hard on our defense,” coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “We’ve applied all of our principles, and we’re doing a lot of things out there that take teams out of the things they want to do. But it’s early, so most everybody’s defense is probably ahead of their offense right now.”
UNC knew that stopping Rodgers would be decisive in the game’s outcome. Even though the senior guard scored 22 points, it was clear that she wasn’t getting the looks she wanted. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, UNC’s own senior guard, said her team’s plan to restrain Rodgers had worked well.
“Six-for-24 (shooting), that’s looking pretty good to me,” she said. “We put a lot of emphasis on her, knowing where she was on the court at all times, keeping her in front of us at all times, and double-teaming her when she caught the ball.”
UNC kept Georgetown to a single field goal in the game’s first 10 and a half minutes. While the Hoyas closed to within one and then trailed by just four at halftime, UNC tightened up its game in the second half and was never threatened afterward.
But in the first half, the Tar Heels committed an abysmal 21 turnovers, many of them long passes thrown out of bounds in an attempt to beat the athletic Hoyas down the court.
In the second half, UNC decided to slow things down and beat Georgetown at its own game.
Guards Megan Buckland and Brittany Rountree embraced the set offense and combined for nine 3-pointers. In their previous two games, the Tar Heels had made just a single bucket from behind the arc.
“They couldn’t stop both of us,” Rountree said. “When I’m on the bench, you’ve got to stop Megan too. When I’m in the game, you gotta stop me. If it’s both of us in the game, it’s trouble.”
Hatchell said she was impressed with her team’s ability to block out its mistakes and win despite them.
“They don’t get rattled about things,” she said. “Thirty-five turnovers? I’m over there going crazy, but they’re just like ‘Yeah, yeah, we know. We got it.’”
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