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The Daily Tar Heel

Breland sparks Tar Heels

Senior lifts No. 12 UNC against UNLV 78-66

Sunday in Carmichael Arena, visiting Nevada-Las Vegas gave the No. 12 North Carolina women’s basketball team the chances it needed to run away with the game early.

But even after 31 Rebel turnovers, the Tar Heels were still far from sealing a victory. With less than five minutes left, the 9-0 Tar Heels led by just three.

That’s when fifth-year senior Jessica Breland stepped in.

In a last-ditch effort to put distance between her Tar Heels and unranked UNLV, Breland scored 13 points in a span of four and a half minutes to carry undefeated UNC to a 78-66 win against the Rebels.

“At the end of the game… I knew that my team needed me,” she said. “They kind of look up to me to do a lot of different things, and I just knew that if I could just get a spark going, just that one spark could light up a fire.”

The Tar Heels trailed UNLV 32-31 at intermission, marking the first time UNC has been down at halftime all season. Despite the Rebel’s 19 first-half turnovers, North Carolina only scored 12 points from its opponent’s mistakes during the period.

But while UNLV struggled to hold onto the ball, the Rebels excelled throughout the game in rebounding. UNLV lead the Tar Heels in total rebounds 23-12 going into halftime.

“The first half they were physical and they were just much more intense in the first half than we were,” North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “I thought the second half we got in there and battled a lot harder. The rebounding kept (UNLV) in the game.”

UNC began the second half with a more aggressive defense, and quickly took back the lead. Senior guard Cetera DeGraffenreid grabbed five defensive rebounds and ended the game with five steals. But costly fouls gave UNLV the opportunity to narrow the gap with free throws, and the Rebels shot 85 percent from the charity stripe.

Breland, who led the Tar Heels with 24 points, admitted she felt a sense of urgency as the final minutes ticked off the clock.

So the 6-foot-3 forward decided to be just a little bit more selfish.

“Sometimes I think about passing it too much instead of attacking a lot,” Breland said. “I have a problem with being too giving. I want to pass it to my teammates when I see them open. But they just tell me to catch and shoot.”

Breland’s 28 minutes were the most she’s played in a single game all season as the Tar Heels have depended on senior guard Italee Lucas for much of the scoring while cancer-free Breland builds stamina. Lucas has been the Tar Heels’ leading scorer in eight of the 10 games so far, and scored a career-high 34 points against Iowa on Dec. 2.

But at the first sign of trouble, Breland knew she could handle it on her own. And that’s exactly what UNLV coach Kathy Olivier simply wasn’t prepared for.

“Breland just took over,” Olivier said. “She makes the game look easy. I thought she was their key… we didn’t really have an answer to her.”

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