Assistant Sports Editor
At the end of halftime, Juana Brown sat at the end of the row of North Carolina women's basketball players on the UNC bench.
Brown's sprained right knee had prevented the senior guard from dressing out and from filling her starting spot in the lineup.
LaQuanda Barksdale wasn't even on the bench.
The ACC's leading scoring and rebounder had started Saturday's game against Maryland but did not return to the court.
But it didn't seem to matter.
North Carolina rolled to an 87-69 victory against the Terrapins despite the absence of two of its senior leaders. Barksdale left the first half with 1:04 remaining and did not return. She suffered an allergic reaction and was treated during halftime and the second half.
So instead of the usual Barksdale and Brown combo, the Tar Heels (4-3, 1-0 in the ACC) relied on free throws, the efforts of sophomore point guard Coretta Brown and a key reserve to hold off the Terrapins (6-2, 0-1) down the stretch.
"I'm just real proud, especially of these three right here, that they won without Juana and Q," UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said of Leah Sharp and Coretta Brown, Cherie Lea.
Sharp, a senior guard, struggled on the perimeter, shooting 0-for-6 on 3-pointers. But she more than made up for it with her performance on the line.
As the game began to wind down, Maryland became desperate and started fouling.
Sharp went to the line seven times in the the waning minutes of the game, making 13-of-14 en route to a career-high 21-point day.
Sharp made 15-of-16 foul shots for the game, one successful attempt short of the school record. She finished the day 3-for-14 from the field.
"In the Notre Dame game, I missed three foul shots," Sharp said, referring to UNC's 78-55 loss to the Irish.
"That's very uncharacteristic of me, I feel. But, I shot a million foul shots just like I've shot a million other shots. You just have to come to the line with confidence."
While Sharp's free throw accuracy helped the Tar Heels pull away, the afternoon really belonged to Coretta Brown.
"I felt that I had to step up -- not just me, but everybody out there had to step up with Juana and Q out," Brown said.
Step up, she did.
Brown exploded for 17 points after halftime, pulling her afternoon total to a career-high 27.
She dished out only two assists in the second half because she was too busy scoring.
"Well, I'm somewhat pleased with the way I played tonight," Brown said. "I had five turnovers, so I'm not happy with that at all. As far as it being a career high, I think I did pretty good, but I think I can do better."
The Terrapins certainly could have done better in the first half with their shooting. Maryland shot 24.3 percent from the field, allowing UNC to take a 37-24 halftime lead.
Maryland tried to get back into the game by giving the ball to junior guard Marche Strickland. She hit a 3-pointer to start the Terrapins with 11:07 remaining.
But Brown didn't let them back in the game. She scored nine points to Maryland's 10 in a 3:14 span to keep the Terps down.
Brown's backcourt mate, instead of the other Brown, was Lea, who played a career-high 37 minutes.
Lea tallied three assists and no turnovers and scored 11 points for the Tar Heels.
Although the three helped the Tar Heels run away from the Terrapins, it was 3:17 of Barksdale that doomed Maryland.
Barksdale opened the game with a
10-0 run to give North Carolina a comfortable lead that it sustained all afternoon.
While Barksdale was unstoppable for a few minutes, Maryland struggled the most with Brown, who played her third complete game of the season.
"Coretta Brown, just in the first half, was just really doing a lot of damage," Maryland coach Chris Weller said. "We just couldn't seem to control her."
Although Maryland couldn't handle Brown, it effectively neutralized UNC's big players.
Centers Candace Sutton and LaShonda Allen were in foul trouble for most of the game, and forward Jennifer Thomas fouled out with 6:40 remaining in the game.
Using the height of the 6-foot-6 Sutton inside has been a big part of the Tar Heels' game, but it didn't work against the Terrapins. Sutton, averaging 9.7 points entering Saturday's game, scored only two.
With the inside game taken away and Barksdale and Juana Brown out with injuries, North Carolina had to look at other options.
"There are good players on that team," Weller said. "They don't have just two good players. The rest of them stepped up and played really big."
The Sports Editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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