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Ruffin-Pratt leads UNC in second half comeback win

After the North Carolina women’s basketball team’s 70-59 victory in the opening round of the preseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament on Friday, senior Tierra Ruffin-Pratt said she considers herself to be a defensive player.

But in Sunday night’s quarterfinal matchup against Duquesne, Ruffin-Pratt showed that she could not only score but take over games.

Down nine at halftime, UNC rallied behind Ruffin-Pratt, whose 17-point second half led the Tar Heels to a 62-58 comeback win.

Ruffin-Pratt finished with a career-high 24 points, shooting eight-for-16 from the field and eight-for-11 from the free throw line. She also added three assists, two blocks and two steals.

“My team is looking for me to do more this year,” Ruffin-Pratt said. “Before, we had scorers on the team, and I didn’t have to score as much. But now they look for me to score as a senior. I have to do more than just play defense.”

Despite being listed at forward on the roster, coach Sylvia Hatchell said that Ruffin-Pratt will serve as the team’s point guard this year — a new position for the senior, who has missed significant time in the past because of injuries.

“She’s going to get better and better with her decision-making,” Hatchell said. “She’s playing point guard, which is a new position really for her, especially with being healthy. But she’s going to continue to improve and knock down shots at the position.

“I’m excited for her because she’s a strong player and is going to be a factor this season.”

After she scored UNC’s first 11 points in the second half, Duquesne tightened the pressure on Ruffin-Pratt. But her ball-handling skills and ability to break presses with her quickness forced the Dukes into foul trouble.

Ruffin-Pratt thought that the ability to break the press was essential to UNC’s comeback.

“We just had to stay calm and play through it. We wanted to play safe, but not play scared. It started with being aggressive with their press,” Ruffin-Pratt said. “It kind of slowed us up a bit so we weren’t running as much as we usually do, but then we picked it up.”

On Sunday, Ruffin-Pratt, along with teammates Krista Gross and Waltiea Rolle, played 36 minutes, including almost the entire second half before she fouled out with around two minutes to go.

Aside from Ruffin-Pratt’s extended time on the floor as a direct indication of her impact to the team, Hatchell said that her senior forward might guard Georgetown’s Sugar Rodgers in the semifinal game of the WNIT on Wednesday.

Rodgers scored 35 points in the Hoyas’ preseason WNIT quarterfinal against Delaware on Sunday and has led the Hoyas in scoring the last three seasons.

“We might put Pratt on (Rodgers),” Hatchell said. “That might be able to get in her head a little bit.”

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