SPOKANE, Wash. — At halftime of the North Carolina women’s basketball team’s NCAA regional semifinal game against first-seeded Stanford, UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell made the fifth-seeded Tar Heels a promise.
“I challenged them if they would win the boards in the second half that we’d win the game,” Hatchell said.
UNC outrebounded the Cardinal 50-47 on Saturday in the Spokane Arena. But ultimately, Hatchell’s word didn’t hold true.
“We battled hard on the boards in the second half, but we missed some shots and made a few mistakes. That was the difference,” she said.
After a hard-fought game that featured 12 ties and nine lead changes, UNC’s 2010-11 campaign came to a halt when Stanford won the Sweet 16 matchup, 72-65.
With just more than two minutes to play, North Carolina (28-9) and Stanford (32-2) were tied at 65. UNC senior guard Italee Lucas could taste it.
“I was hungry and I wanted it so bad,” Lucas said. “Not just for me, but for my teammates. We were so close in those last two minutes in the stretch. It was in our hands, there’s no doubt about that.”
Down by just two with 58 seconds to go, sophomore Tierra Ruffin-Pratt turned the ball over, and Stanford freshman Chiney Ogwumike all but sealed the deal for the Cardinal with a layup.
The Ogwumike sisters, Chiney and Nnemkadi, were a handful for UNC, as they combined for 35 of the Cardinal’s 72 points and 14 of its 47 rebounds.
Before Saturday’s game, the Cardinal had the fourth-best scoring offense in the NCAA. Lucas said her team was successful at shutting down Stanford’s guards.
“More than anything it was a mental lapse,” Lucas said. “We were right in it … down the stretch the focus needs to be there, even stronger and tougher than it is in the beginning of the game.”
Lucas had a game-high 22 and Ruffin-Pratt added 14. Hatchell was pleased with the performances from her backcourt, but she couldn’t help but acknowledge that something simply was missing.
In 25 minutes, Jessica Breland scored just two points. For Hatchell, Breland’s absence was a game changer.
“Jessica didn’t have a good game, and that was a major factor,” she said. “If Jessica had her normal game, we would probably be really happy campers right now. I’m not blaming it on her … but that was very unusual for her.”
For UNC, the heavy underdog, many would call the Tar Heels’ performance against the consistent Cardinal a moral victory.
But this wasn’t horseshoes or hand grenades. And for Ruffin-Pratt, close just wasn’t good enough.
“Whether you lose by one or by 20, a loss is a loss.”
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