Current Date: Tue, 11 Mar 2014 17:08:42 -0400
Last season North Carolina lost two close games to Georgia Tech, one of which knocked UNC out of the ACC Tournament and ended its season.
Two weeks later, the Tar Heels sat and watched as Georgia Tech began its NCAA run in Carmichael Arena.
With that memory in mind, Sunday’s 79-58 victory was about defense — defending the ball, defending each other and defending their home floor.
“It wasn’t — I don’t want to say ‘payback’— but we had something to prove,” coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “Those two games last year we felt like we should have won, and they probably would have put us in the NCAA Tournament.”
The Tar Heels opened with one of their season’s best halves of basketball against Georgia Tech, forcing 11 steals and going seven-for-10 from behind the arc. Tar Heel defenders were everywhere, putting up 16 points off of turnovers in the first half.
Despite her team’s 22-3 opening run, Hatchell said she knew Georgia Tech wasn’t going to roll over. Though the Yellow Jackets scored just once in the first 11 minutes of the game, they produced a 12-3 run to draw within 10 points at 25-15.
But UNC’s defense refocused and ended the half on a 16-2 run. At halftime the Tar Heels led 41-17.
UNC leads the nation in steals, averaging just fewer than 15 per game. But it helped that redshirt freshman Megan Buckland, who finished with a career-high 19 points on five-of-five 3-point shooting, had her best game since returning from the second ACL tear of her career.
“I knew coming back this year, it was going to be hard coming back from a second ACL (injury), but I couldn’t be more happy with the team and how we’re playing,” Buckland said.
Both senior Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and Hatchell said this year’s team has a unique bond.
Late in the second half, a knee to the ribs put UNC’s Latifah Coleman on the floor.
“I knew when she got knocked to the ground there, they were all going to be over there blowing their chests out and protecting her,” Hatchell said.
They were. Ruffin-Pratt earned a technical foul for words exchanged with Georgia Tech players as she tried to help her teammate up.
Otherwise, the Tar Heels eased up in the second half. The press yielded to a more settled defensive style, and Georgia Tech began to attack more aggressively.
“We started off in the mindset that we have to get the ball out of their guards’ hands, and the second half we kind of stepped back,” Ruffin-Pratt said. “We weren’t focused on pressuring as much.”
As a result, the Yellow Jackets were able to close the gap, thanks to 17 second-half points from Brittany Jackson off the bench. But the Tar Heel defense kept them at bay.
“We’re not out there gambling that much, we’re still following our rules,” Hatchell said. “But we trap some, we switch some, we hedge some. You just don’t know what we’re going to do.”
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