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The Daily Tar Heel

New starters pace Tar Heels

Sophomore Laura Broomfield saw extensive action against College of Charleston. DTH/B.J. Dworak
Sophomore Laura Broomfield saw extensive action against College of Charleston. DTH/B.J. Dworak

Like last year, North Carolina entered its season opener with the title of preseason ACC favorites.

Less familiar were some of the names defending it.

The No. 5 UNC women’s basketball team routed College of Charleston 88-57 on Friday.

Sophomores Laura Broomfield and She’la White led all scorers with 14 points apiece, while junior Cetera DeGraffenreid and freshman Tierra Ruffin-Pratt added 13 points each.

UNC trailed 13-10 five minutes into the game before staging a 16-2 run in the final six minutes of the half. During that period, UNC forced five turnovers and limited the Cougars to 1-of-9 shooting from the field.

After seizing a 46-27 lead at halftime, UNC never looked back — though in the opening minutes of the game, it was hard not to.

The Tar Heels had expected to fill a void by the graduated leading scorer Rashanda McCants. But nobody predicted to be without second-leading scorer Jessica Breland, who is recovering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The next-leading scorer, Italee Lucas, stepped on a teammate’s foot and hyperextended her knee in practice.

Absent the pair’s combined average of 28 points a game, the result on the court was a familiar one. With the win, UNC won its season-opener for the ninth consecutive year.

“A lot of people stepped up,” coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “Italee wasn’t there, and she gives us energy. We still beat a very good team without being at full strength, especially with our perimeter game.”

North Carolina struggled early on, shooting just 38 percent from the field in the first half while a weak transition defense allowed the Cougars plenty of open looks to remain in close contention.

“I thought we pushed it up and down the floor pretty good,” Hatchell said. “But we were taking too many jump shots early — then we started getting inside.”

It took little time for North Carolina’s touted size and athleticism to take over.

After missing her first six shots, Ruffin-Pratt finished the game shooting 6 of 17 from the floor. DeGraffenreid, the only returning starter who played in the game, went to the line eight times, drawing all of her 13 points from free throw attempts.

Broomfield had another outstanding game, as the sophomore forward set personal records with her point total and nine rebounds.

“This helped us grow,” Broomfield said.

“There’s definitely added comfort knowing every day I have more of a role on this team.”

The forward’s teammates would likely agree.

While Lucas is expected to return to the lineup for Wednesday’s matchup against Coastal Carolina, Breland’s status for the season remains unsure, Hatchell said.

Though she said the young team exhibited both good and bad — 13 turnovers in the second half being among them — she isn’t worried.

“We’re going to keep getting better,” she said. “We will.”

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