The North Carolina women’s basketball team opened the 2012-13 season with promise by winning a preseason tournament with room for error.
UNC defeated Iowa 77-64 Sunday to win the preseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament in Iowa City, Iowa.
The Tar Heels ended the first half with a 22-point lead after senior guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt sunk a back-court buzzer-beater to extend UNC’s edge to 47-25.
But the long shot and strong lead were not enough to drive an aggressive offense through the break.
“After that shot I think we kind of got a little too comfortable after the first half,” Ruffin-Pratt said. “We need to just keep trying to come out stronger.”
UNC went nearly four minutes without scoring at the beginning of the second half against Iowa, reflecting the inconsistency that accompanies the early season.
“I thought we came out a little bit flat,” coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “We played pretty good defense but just couldn’t score. I knew (Iowa) would be more aggressive and physical, but I was proud of our team for making the adjustments that needed to be made to pick back up.”
Despite being outscored 39-30 in the second half, UNC was able to control the game with its defensive tenacity.
“We are an incredibly intense team. We’re extremely aggressive,” freshman forward Xylina McDaniel said. “All that comes out on our defense, and when we see that, everything falls into place.”
Defensively, UNC was able to use a selection of aggressive tactics to beat the Hawkeyes.
“We went from using the zone — the referees were calling a lot of fouls — and switched up to man-on-man, and it was just enough to break their momentum,” Hatchell said.
UNC still had strong offensive performances despite the second-half lull and 12 missed free throws.
Newcomer McDaniel was named to the All-Tournament team and recorded her second double-double in four games, while Ruffin-Pratt was named tournament MVP and scored a game-high 22 points.
Hatchell said she was impressed but believes UNC has much to improve upon.
“In the locker room I said to them, ‘Do y’all realize how good you can be?’” Hatchell said. “Our defense is good, but our offense isn’t quite where it should be.
“But they’re competing really, really hard. They really get after people. We’re going to play harder than anyone else for 40 minutes … and that’s what’s going to make this team hard to beat.”
Hatchell said she thought her team could stand to learn a few things from its experience in Iowa. But for coach and player alike, the early victory feeling is what matters.
“It’s a great start to the season. We haven’t started like this in a while,” Ruffin-Pratt said.
“A win is a win — that’s just what we’re proud of.”
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