But Virginia’s defense opened up other opportunities for UNC.
For one, North Carolina captured 14 offensive rebounds after the team’s long misses because the middle was wide open. They outscored the Cavaliers 13-7 in points off offensive rebounds.
In fact, the Tar Heels won the rebounding battle for the game 41-40. Guards Stephanie Watts and Paris Kea notched 10 rebounds apiece. This is all the more significant because North Carolina came into the game as the worst rebounding team in the ACC, boasting an average rebounding margin of -1.1.
North Carolina exploited the open spots in the middle of the Cavalier zone. Kea — who was one point away from obtaining the first ever triple double in North Carolina women’s basketball history (9 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) — was a huge reason why.
Coach Sylvia Hatchell called Kea North Carolina’s “utility player” after Sunday’s win. Even though she is labeled as a guard in the official stat sheet, she defends the opposing team’s power forward, navigates and passes from the high post on offense and even takes the opening tip for the Tar Heels.
Hatchell said if she knew about Kea’s stat-line, she would’ve told her team to get her the ball so she would get fouled and have opportunities at the foul line to get double-digit points.
Today, she was essential in all phases of the game.
“I just want to do whatever it takes to help my team,” Kea said. “In the end, I just want to win.”
For another, North Carolina made a concerted effort to be tenacious and energetic out of the gates and after the break. The effort proved effective — as UNC forced 17 turnovers.
Hatchell, who is known for her energy on the sideline, was especially fired up today.
“I wanted us to come out of halftime fired up because we’d been a little flat,” she said. “And we did. We were just not coming out with the energy that we needed to after half.
“I’m trying to get, even as young as we are, more leadership out of (the players). Great teams are player-led. Coaches can lead but can only do so much. Really great teams are player-led. And I keep challenging them to step up and do those types of things, and more of them are.”
But most of all, the game was about hitting the shots in the most pivotal moments. Destinee Walker may have only gone 3-for-9 from three, but her most important shots came just when Virginia looked like it would mount a run early in the fourth quarter.
“It’s definitely a great feeling to knock it down when it counts,” said Walker, who finished with a game-high 17 points.
As satisfying as the win was, the Tar Heels were not done having fun once the final horn sounded. Coach Hatchell agreed to participate in the “shag day” festivities after the game, and she danced with her husband in the middle of the court while the rest of her team either tried to learn how to do the dance or playfully teased their coach.
“I’ll do anything for these kids,” Hatchell said with a smile. “Anything they want me to do — as long as it's legal.”