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The Daily Tar Heel

Backcourt anchors youthful squad

Members of North Carolina's backcourt didn't fail to catch the attention of Gardner Webb coach Rick Reeves.

But that didn't begin with Italee Lucas and Cetera Degraffenreid's dynamic performance in UNC's 81-65 victory Sunday.

It began when he was recruiting for his own team.

"Lucas is awesome," he said with a laugh. "Degraffenreid, I'm still mad she hasn't sent my questionnaire back."

Lucas turned in one of her most complete games of the season, recording a season-high in assists, steals, and rebounds. Degraffenreid finished as the team's leading scorer in her third consecutive game, finishing with 19 points and a season-high eight rebounds.

"I honestly don't know where they came from" she said. "I remember my two offensive rebounds, I don't remember eight."

Coach Sylvia Hatchell said that the juniors' consistent success this season has served to anchor a team characterized by youth and inexperience.

That became evident as the freshmen class found itself plagued with foul trouble, as Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, Waltiea Rolle and Cierra Roberston-Warren each ended the game with four personal fouls.

As a result of experimenting with lineups to establish long-term rotations, Hatchell said she has come to rely on her backcourt to anchor on-court success.

Sunday's lineup composed of one freshman, two sophomores and the two juniors.

"I can see, as we go into the heat of battle, who can do certain things for us," Hatchell said. "These two are our leaders."

That became increasingly clear during one decisive juncture of the game as the pair helped stave off a 10-2 run by the Bulldogs with 10:36 remaining in the second half.

A layup by Margaret Roundtree capped the Bulldogs' run, which cut the margin to 53-47. Lucas and Degraffenreid responded with their own 9-0 run in less than two minutes.

After a timeout called by Gardner-Webb, Lucas sank two free throws to extend the margin to eight. Degraffenreid scored on the next two consecutive positions, scoring on a layup and then driving to the basket for a bucket and a foul.

Lucas helped sustain the team's offensive momentum throughout the game by dishing out five assists.

Ruffin-Pratt became the recipient of one such assist with 4:57 remaining in the game, when Lucas penetrated the Bulldogs' defense with a no-look pass over her right shoulder.

Lucas said she expects the team to only find more opportunities like that as the young team gains more experience.

"With our younger post players, when they get used to when the ball is coming, our assists will go up," Lucas said.

Hatchell said she also expects improvement in the near future.

But amidst those changes, she maintained that she expects certain consistences will prevail.

"We're going to keep working hard and getting better and better," Hatchell said. "And these two are going to continue to lead us."

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