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The Daily Tar Heel

A healthier Tar Heels to face Tigers

If the regular season of college basketball is a book, then North Carolina concluded its final chapter Sunday night with a six-point loss to foe Duke.

Thursday, the Tar Heels will begin to pen their epilogue with the beginning of ACC Tournament play against Clemson.

The fifth-seeded Tar Heels (19-10, 9-7 ACC) will get a second chance against the 12th seeded Tigers (6-21, 2-14 ACC) in the opening round.

“Everyone’s excited to play them in the first game, I guess for a little bit of payback,” senior Chay Shegog said.

Though UNC is the higher seed, the sequel won’t be a cakewalk. Clemson thwarted the Tar Heels 52-47 earlier this season in Chapel Hill.

“I think we’re a much better team now than we played Clemson earlier because that was that second or third week in January,” coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “We’re more healthy now, and we’ve got more kids out there. We’ve just got to play a better game.”

UNC

The Tar Heels have faced a season full of quick-turnaround games while also playing some of the stronger teams in the conference twice.

Though the schedule was difficult at times, it has prepared UNC for the tough test ahead.

“I think it helps a lot, especially dealing with mental toughness,” Shegog said.

“All of our back-to-back games have been the top teams, Duke and Maryland, Duke and Miami, and I think that’s really helped people to just push through whatever fatigue they’re feeling.”

All-ACC second team member Shegog stood as a steadfast beacon when injuries plagued the team. Twice named ACC player of the week, she filled the void left when forward Jessica Breland graduated.

Going into the postseason, Shegog will look to lead younger players like freshman point guard Brittany Rountree, who will play in her first ACC tournament.

“(I tell the freshmen to) stay focused and do whatever you can to help us win, whether it be on the court or off the court,” Shegog said. “When they do get in the game, I just tell them that everything is going to go in.”

Rountree may be inexperienced in ACC tournament play, but throughout the course of the season, the ACC All-Freshman team member has settled into her role on the court.

Though the freshman is not a fixture to the starting lineup, she contributes to the game nearly every time she steps on the floor.

“I know my role is to bring intensity,” Rountree said. “So I have to come out and bring intensity and watch what everybody else is doing and learn from their mistakes.”

The point guard’s sharpshooting abilities make her a valuable asset to a team that lacked guard play early in the season after injuries. Rountree ranks third on the team in 3-point shooting percentage at 38.5.

“We happened to lose our guard play early on,” Hatchell said. “But we got that straightened out and our guards are playing much better.”

When the ink dried last year, UNC found itself in a similar situation to the one it’s in now, finishing sixth in the regular season standings before losing to Duke in the ACC tournament title game.

Regardless of regular season finishes, the Tar Heels have played for the championship 14 of the last 18 years, Hatchell said.

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And if the Tar Heels have their way, their postseason will be a page turner.

“The regular season is over,” Hatchell said. “This is a four-game season. A four-game ACC conference season and anyone can win it.”

Contact the Sports Editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.