As the clock wound down in Carmichael Arena and the North Carolina women’s basketball team led Duke by just two, the Blue Devils drove down the court in a last-ditch effort to tie the score.
Duke’s Chelsea Gray, who had already picked up a season-high 20 points, attempted a buzzer-beating layup.
Waltiea Rolle was in the right place at the right time.
“I was just helping, waiting for her to get there,” the 6-foot-6 Tar Heel center said. “I saw it coming, so I just blocked it.”
Rolle had already scored 10 points and grabbed a team-leading nine rebounds. But that game-saving block would be her biggest contribution of the night.
Saving her team from overtime, Rolle helped No. 13 UNC to a 62-60 win against No. 5 Duke.
The junior had seven blocks during the game, two of them in the final three minutes.
For coach Sylvia Hatchell, grooming her tallest player has been a work in progress, but in moments like these, she sees how far she’s come.
“Waltiea never touched the basketball until she was in the ninth grade,” Hatchell said. “When we recruited her she was really raw. But she’s worked really hard and she’s gotten a lot stronger. She has great timing … and size makes a big difference.”
Despite the heart-racing ending for UNC, the game didn’t exactly start that way. The Tar Heels didn’t get their first basket until three minutes into the game, and the Blue Devils went on an early 11-2 run that forced Hatchell to signal timeout.
“I don’t know what was wrong with us when we first started,” Hatchell said. “Duke started off strong. Then we finally settled down and started playing. I don’t know if they were just caught up in the Carolina-Duke thing, or what it was.”
But the Tar Heels weren’t helpless for long. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and Italee Lucas helped UNC rally back and go into halftime leading by one.
In typical style, Lucas proved to be a vocal leader all night long.
Five minutes into the second half and the shot clock winding down, the highly defended Lucas was searching to pass to a teammate. Seeing no one, she decided to take matters into her own hands.
After a last-second rush to the basket, the next thing the senior heard was the buzzer-beating swish as the UNC lead increased to four.
The Tar Heels had three and-ones in the final four minutes of the game, something the Blue Devils knew would come back to haunt them. UNC shot only 7 of 18 from the foul line, but when handed the opportunities late in the game, the Tar Heels took advantage of them.
“I thought we didn’t win the battle of being smart,” Duke coach Joanne McCallie said. “I think there were three or four and-ones called at the end of the game, which is completely unacceptable and shows a lack of discipline on our part.”
Though they struggled at the start, the Tar Heels showcased their discipline and team work in the closing minutes of the game.
Senior Jessica Breland charged the basket with just more than a minute left. Seeing someone in her way, she looked right and saw Lucas waiting in the wings. With a pass behind her back, the forward delivered it to her waiting teammate.
Lucas sunk the shot and grinned from ear to ear on the baseline, as if admiring the pair’s feat.
Hatchell was delighted with what she saw from all her players during the game.
But from her tried and true, she saw what she expected.
“I was really getting on her about getting rebounds and working hard and everything,” Hatchell said. “But Jessica is an experienced player, and she made some good things happen.”
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