Tar Heels outlast FSU in 72-62 win
They bent, faltered, cracked but never broke. They led by 14 at halftime, watched their opponent methodically chip away their lead, then put the game away in the final three minutes.
They were at times dominant, other times scattered and sluggish. But what ultimately mattered for the North Carolina women’s basketball players Thursday night at Carmichael Arena was their resilience, and they were rewarded with a 72-62 win against No. 20 Florida State — their 20th of the season.
“I told them (at halftime), I said, ‘This is a false sense of security here now. This team will come storming back, because they can flat-out score,’” UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said.
“That’s exactly what happened.”
In the first half, everything went right for No. 11 UNC (20-2, 8-1 ACC).
The Tar Heels’ defense was unrelenting. Their jump shots were falling. There was movement off the ball and hard cuts into the paint. Easy lay-ups ensued.
Senior center Waltiea Rolle, often the beneficiary of the quick ball movement, more than once found herself near the basket with two uncomplicated steps: catch the ball and lay it in. She said the reason for the easy points was simple.
“I was running the floor hard,” said Rolle, who shot 75 percent from the field.
Senior guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt ran the offense with ease, finishing with a team-high six assists, and the Ruffin-Pratt-to-Rolle connection was a common one. The Tar Heels led 38-24 when the half ended.
But apparently Hatchell’s halftime admonitions went unheard.
The Seminoles were a different team in the second half, and the comeback began.
They pressured UNC to turn the ball over — 19 times for the whole game — and that led to easy fastbreak points. The two teams seemed to swap identities at the break.
“They were beating us at our game in the second half,” Hatchell said.
Florida State coach Sue Semrau said it was her team’s defense that sparked its revival. The Seminoles did what they failed to in the first half — get back on defense and limit UNC’s run-and-gun offense.
“We’re a good transition defense team,” Semrau said.
“You remind them of it, and somehow miraculously it changes.”
Everything that was falling for UNC in the first 20 minutes did the opposite in the second half, and FSU took a brief lead.
North Carolina shot 58 percent from the field in the first half and under 36 percent in the second.
What once seemed like a sure victory for the Tar Heels became a struggle.
“Certainly it was a tale of two halves,” Semrau said.
But, as has been the case many times this season, UNC turned to freshman forward Xylina McDaniel.
McDaniel, by her own admission, didn’t have a great first half, but she was the team’s offensive go-to in the second.
She filled Rolle’s role as the team’s strongest in-the-paint presence.
“Honestly I don’t know what came over me,” McDaniel said of the first-to-second half change.
“If one of us is down, then someone else has to pick up the slack.”
She finished as North Carolina’s leading scorer with 19 points, and after Hatchell made a few defensive changes — namely, playing a box-and-one defense on FSU’s Leonor Rodriguez — UNC regained its offensive rhythm and rode the clock to victory.
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