Bouncing from adrenaline, the North Carolina women’s basketball team gathered in a huddle for a final word of inspiration Monday before meeting Duke on the court in Carmichael Arena.
Ten minutes into the first half, it was clear sophomore guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt was listening.
“(Ruffin-)Pratt did a really good job defensively and rebounding,” UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “She’s just playing better and better.”
Ruffin-Pratt’s dominating presence led the Tar Heels by example under the basket as the 5-foot-10 Tar Heel earned five rebounds in the first half.
Playing defense against Duke’s top scorer for the season, senior Jasmine Thomas, Ruffin-Pratt finished second in boards for the night and first in leadership and aggression.
Ruffin-Pratt went on to pick up three key buckets to shift the momentum in the Tar Heels’ favor, as North Carolina went on to a last-second 62-60 victory against the Blue Devils.
“I was just focused, like in the zone the whole game, starting with the defensive end and it just all turned over into the offensive end,” Ruffin-Pratt said. “I was making shots and giving people the ball when they were open, so it just got me going.”
North Carolina took its first lead of the game, 21-20, as Ruffin-Pratt’s aggression turned two missed free throws by junior Laura Broomfield into a key play. Powering past a Blue Devil, the guard earned an offensive rebound and found open space to sink a momentum-changing jumper.
Then, early in the second half she rallied the Tar Heels on a basket assisted by Cetera DeGraffenreid and again on a pass from senior Jessica Breland.
“I’m a lot more comfortable on the court,” Ruffin-Pratt said. “I’m not afraid to attack the basket or go up for rebounds.”
When Ruffin-Pratt wasn’t putting up her own 10 points, she was setting up the success of her teammates. Recording a team-high eight assists, Ruffin-Pratt took leadership from the top of the key to a new level.
“She’s a great passer — she can play point guard,” Hatchell said. “She’s a great defender. She understands the game, she’s got great basketball principles, great basketball intelligence and IQ. So she’s really taken a lot of leadership over this team.”
And that leadership can all be attributed to her attitude. When the guard’s face filled the jumbotron in the final minutes of play after her last assist, a brief smile was replaced immediately with a look of intent as she re-set on defense.
“I take a lot of pride in (playing against the opponent’s No. 1 player), and I guess the coaches do too,” Ruffin-Pratt said. “They call me the Secretary of Defense for the team, so just being up there I always gotta make a statement on defense.”
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