One year removed from UNC’s wild 79-77 victory in Chapel Hill, the rematch looked like a worthy encore from the opening tip.
After the Cowgirls claimed an early 10-point advantage, the Tar Heels stormed back to take a one-point lead into halftime. Through 23 minutes, the two teams had tied seven times and traded the lead on seven separate occasions.
But against North Carolina’s inexperienced guards, Oklahoma State star senior Brittney Martin led an 18-2 charge to bury the Tar Heels in the third quarter.
“The freshmen have been thrown in the fire,” Hatchell said. “Normally they’d be coming off the bench, getting 12-15 minutes maybe a game and having some time to work into things …”
“This is the first time they’ve been in a game like this against a player like that.”
But UNC’s youthful backcourt kept its chances alive.
Sophomore guard Jamie Cherry opened the final period with two 3-pointers to cut the Oklahoma State's lead to five. First-year guard Stephanie Watts drilled another with about four minutes left to slice the deficit to three.
And after the Cowgirls built yet another sizable advantage, four free throws from first-year Destinee Walker and a layup from Cherry settled the score.
With just over a minute remaining, the Tar Heels were a 3-point shot away from completing the comeback.
But UNC missed the mark on its final six shots — all from beyond the arc — as Oklahoma State closed the contest from the free-throw line and spoiled North Carolina's upset bid.
“They got some shots, they got some looks, but they didn’t fall. And both of them are McDonald’s All-Americans, and they were both great shooters in high school. … I know they’re really good shooters and big-time players, but this is a different level, so it’s just going to take a little more time.” — Hatchell on the performance of Walker and Watts, UNC’s two starting first-year guards.
Senior forward Xylina McDaniel, who is battling a nagging calf injury, recorded two points and six rebounds through 24 minutes of action. Hatchell said the former All-ACC forward is not yet 100 percent and is doing extra workouts to improve her mobility.
Former WNBA player and Olympic track star Marion Jones visited the Tar Heels before their pregame meal. Jones — who led UNC to an NCAA Championship in 1994 — drove from Austin, Texas, to speak to the team about the pride of playing at North Carolina. “It was a speech for the record books,” Hatchell said.
Three numbers that matter
54: Rebounds for Oklahoma State. The Cowgirls entered the game boasting a 17.1 rebounding margin and outrebounded UNC by 14 on Monday.
23: Points off turnovers for the Tar Heels. UNC forced 13 turnovers — including 11 steals — while Oklahoma State failed to convert any of North Carolina’s nine turnovers into points.
41: Free-throw attempts between the two teams. Hatchell noted the physicality of the game, which featured 38 personal fouls and saw five players one foul away from disqualification.
The Tar Heels will return to Chapel Hill to take on USC Upstate at 4 p.m. on Wednesday.