Before Thursday’s game against Miami, coach Sylvia Hatchell emphasized to her players the importance of a win.
After an 80-69 loss, North Carolina (16-5) will have to wait for another chance. UNC dropped its second consecutive game against a conference opponent.
After trailing for most of the game, UNC rallied from a 13-point deficit to tie the game 61-61 with 7:05 remaining.
But the Tar Heels were unable to reclaim the lead, despite a season-high 20 points and 13 rebounds for freshman Waltiea Rolle.
UNC remained scoreless while the Hurricanes staged a 10-0 run over a five-minute stretch.
It doesn’t appear the road ahead will be any easier.
No. 6 Duke (6-1) is at the top of the ACC standings, and UNC will travel to Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday to try to avenge its loss.
North Carolina will rely on its conference-leading scoring offense and rebounding to get back on a winning track.
“Every game is so important,” Hatchell said. “One game can be the difference between first place and sixth place.”
Midway through ACC play, No. 9 UNC has a 4-3 conference record. The two other ACC losses came against Virginia Tech on the road and UNC’s most recent home game against Florida State.
Those losses put UNC among four teams that stand tied at third place with four wins apiece.
Throughout the season, seven ACC teams have spent time in AP Poll. Many of them have fallen victim to upsets by their conference opponents.
“I’ve been coaching for 24 years now,” Hatchell said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen the ACC so evenly matched.”
The outlook for the Tar Heels will rely largely on the leadership of two veteran players and the ongoing growth of the youthful team.
The team’s scoring has fallen largely on the shoulders of Italee Lucas and Cetera DeGraffenreid, who rank fourth and ninth, respectively, in the conference.
Lucas and DeGraffenreid remain the only upperclassmen among the team’s starters and have led the team in scoring for a combined 14 games this year.
“We want to do well this season,” Hatchell said. “But at the same time, we’re building to the future.”
Hatchell has implemented 10 different starting lineups this season, with a number of underclassmen filling in the rotation.
The team’s youth has been tested during conference play. And Hatchell’s subsequent assessment has been simple.
“The team needs to be mentally tougher,” she said.
The largest deficit the team has overcome in a win is nine points, which came against N.C. State.
Despite rallying from a 19-point deficit to within one point against Florida State on Monday, the team failed to obtain the lead.
“We did that at N.C. State, so I know this team can do it,” she said. “But Florida State showed we’ve still got a lot to learn.”
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