“And we’re getting better — it’s showing, it’s paying off.”
UNC flexed its defensive muscle to pull away from Virginia (11-6, 3-3 ACC) in the first half, the team’s best of the season, according to Ruffin-Pratt. The Tar Heels turned blocks, steals and errant UVa. passes into 17 points off turnovers.
UNC finished the opening half with nine steals, including three by the tenacious Ruffin-Pratt.
Ruffin-Pratt’s line also featured eight assists.
“At the beginning of the season, (playing point guard) was a task that I wasn’t really used to,” Ruffin-Pratt said. “And it got to a point where I was like, ‘I don’t want to do it anymore.’
“But the coaches trust me with the ball in my hands, so if they trust me, I trust myself.”
The scoreboard soon became lopsided as UVa.’s carelessness continued and UNC’s defensive vice-grip tightened. UVa. would score just three points in the final 7:55 of the first half.
Not helping Virginia’s cause was a mismatch at center. The Cavs’ undersized starting five, including 6-foot-3-inches center Simone Egwu, had no answer for the imposing 6-foot-6-inches Waltiea Rolle.
Rolle accounted for more than half of UNC’s 26 points in the paint, with the Cavaliers mustering just 16.
The ACC’s reigning Rookie of the Week Xylina McDaniel scored 15 points and grabbed nine boards in 29 minutes.
The freshman forward epitomized the Tar Heels’ relentlessness early in the second half. With her team up by 22, McDaniel got her own rebound below the basket as three Cavaliers descended on her.
She wrestled her way through contact and drew a foul.
“I just feed off of my teammates — every single person,” McDaniel said of her effort. “Once I see them pumped up and doing good, I’m like, ‘Oh, I’ve gotta get in here too and get some action.’”
That enviable energy bled from the locker room sign onto the floor. Hatchell was not sure who hung the sign, but she endorsed its simple message.
“That’s sort of the mentality we want to have — attack on offense and defense.”
And that attack is making life a pleasure for the Tar Heels.
“It’s fun — we’re 18-1. And this is a really good group of kids to coach,” Hatchell said.
“I tell you, I really enjoy them. And they’re listening and learning and paying attention. And they have a lot of chemistry, and this makes it fun for the coaches.”
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