The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday December 4th

Vandy Silences UNC Trio, Sends Tar Heels Home

A bad night from one of the Tar Heels' big three of guards Coretta Brown and Nikki Teasley and center Candace Sutton has never been a reason to panic. Even the combination of poor showings from two of the three hasn't been cause for alarm.

But when all three players struggle, the Tar Heels basically can kiss away any chance they have of winning, which is what happened -- and what they did -- in a 70-61 loss to Vanderbilt in the NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal Saturday night.

With their talented trinity turning in performances hardly worthy of worship, combining to shoot 12 of 46 from the field, the fourth-seeded Tar Heels were forced to end their season in front of 8,407 at Iowa State's Hilton Coliseum knowing that a better night from one of their leading scorers likely would have changed the outcome against the top-seeded Commodores.

"Who would have thought Nikki and Coretta and Candace all would have shooting nights like they did?" said UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell.

Not the three of them, for starters.

Sutton, as she did in UNC's second-round win at home Monday against Minnesota and several other games this season, struggled with her touch inside, missing several shots from close and finishing 4 of 14 from the floor for 12 points.

In the face of Vandy's triangle-and-two defense, Brown knocked down 7 of 18 shots but hit only 2 of 9 from behind the arc for a team-high 19 points. And Teasley, making the curtain call of her UNC career, missed 13 of 14 shots, including all six from downtown, for a season-low three points.

"I'm disappointed," said Teasley, whose nine assists left her one short of tying the ACC career record of 729. "They didn't do anything on defense to stop me or whatever. I just feel like we really beat ourselves. They won, they're a great team -- but I don't think the better team won tonight. I don't think they beat us; they outplayed us. We beat ourselves."

The Tar Heels (26-9) were playing in their eighth Sweet 16 in the past decade. They moved past the regional semifinal in 1994, when they won the national championship, and in 1998, when they lost to Tennessee in the Elite Eight.

Trailing 35-23 at halftime, UNC fought its way back with a physical defense -- Vandy shot 8 of 25 in the second half -- and a more aggressive offense.

The Tar Heels ripped off a 13-3 run to open the second half to pull within two. And UNC's inside players made Vanderbilt work for its points on the other end, bodying up on 6-foot-6 All-American center Chantelle Anderson.

Slowly though, the Commodores (30-6) began to pull away, getting five second-chance points in a 12-6 run that put them up 53-46 with 6:44 to go.

The last two of their points during that spurt came on a pair of Anderson free throws, a sight that quickly became the dominant image of the second half.

With UNC frequently rotating defenders at her, Anderson began drawing contact inside. She hit 9 of 10 free throws in the second half and 14 of 16 for the game, sinking as many free throws as the Tar Heels attempted.

"I was just trying to be active," said Anderson, who finished with a game-high 22 points. "I felt a little bit like Shaq out there."

She was alluding, of course, to Shaquille O'Neal, the player believed to receive more physical punishment than any other NBA player.

When a reporter asked Anderson how the Tar Heels' physical play (they committed 23 fouls to the Commodores' 14) compared to that of other teams she had faced this season, Anderson chuckled and then chose her words very carefully.

"I really respect teams that are going to come out and play their game and try to be physical in a clean way," she said. "There were a lot of fouls called, so obviously playing cleanly was not one of their priorities."

Chrystal Baptist, who fouled out with 1:43 left in the game, brushed off Anderson's comments.

"She doesn't like to be physical, and we're a physical team," Baptist said. "We're not going to be light or soft on you. If you're going to post up, you're going to get hit. You go back and look at the Duke game we played in the ACC Championship: (Duke forward) Iciss Tillis, she didn't want to come in there and post up.

"We're going to be physical in there whether you like it or not. If you're going to play post against us, then you're going to get hit. That's just how it goes."

Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, their physical play on the defensive end didn't spark much going the other way.

After Leah Metcalf drained a 3-pointer with 6:24 to go, UNC didn't score again until Brown hit a 3 with 25 seconds left.

By that point, the Commodores had a nine-point lead, and the game -- and the Tar Heels' season -- was all but over.

But with Teasley the team's lone senior, five freshmen on the roster and highly touted recruits LaTangela Atkinson -- ranked as high as No. 3 in this year's senior class -- and Jessica Sell coming to Chapel Hill next year, optimism for next season is already high.

"There will never be another Nikki Teasley, but we've got good players that will come in, and we'll just do with the talent that we have," Hatchell said. "But I really like this team a lot. A lot of them are going to get a lot better between now and next year."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.

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