It was clear after Tierra Ruffin-Pratt left the game against Tennessee on Sunday with a concussion that her absence was as responsible for the ensuing loss as her presence had been for the victory five days before.
“She went in for a layup, and she got undercut,” North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “When she came down, thank goodness her back hit first, but then her head hit. It was bang, bang. She came out and said she was OK, so we put her back in.
“But then she took three really bad shots, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, man.’”
Against then-No. 15 Ohio State on Nov. 28, Ruffin-Pratt scored her team’s final four points to give the Tar Heels the lead and ultimately the win.
When she exited the game on Sunday in the first half, her team was down 16. UNC would go on to lose by 45 points.
“We’d actually started to settle down,” Hatchell said. “And if that hadn’t happened, we might not have won, but it would have been a very respectable game for us.”
Instead, what followed was a 102-57 drubbing in front of a Knoxville crowd of more than 11,000.
Hatchell said her team was intimidated by the setting, which featured about 10,000 more fans than have attended the average game in Carmichael Arena this season. Cold shooting, poor rebounding and Ruffin-Pratt’s injury compounded that effect.
Now, the No. 21 Tar Heels (7-1) are scrambling to re-energize their play before tonight’s contest against Radford at home.
“Tennessee, it just hurt,” senior Krista Gross said. “A lot of things went wrong, a lot of things went right for them. We couldn’t buy anything, they were hitting everything. It was just one of those games when we didn’t come out like we should have.”
Gross said Radford’s smaller lineup and skilled guards promise a fast game — one the Tar Heels won’t be taking lightly after the defeat in Knoxville.
With Ruffin-Pratt out of the lineup, sophomore Latifah Coleman will start at point guard for North Carolina, with freshman N’Dea Bryant relieving her.
Coleman came in to replace the senior against Tennessee, but Hatchell said her lack of experience playing for extended stretches kept the Tar Heels from going about business as usual.
Gross said playing at point from start to finish with the senior guard helping from the bench will help Coleman ease into the role.
The team expects Ruffin-Pratt to return for the next game against North Carolina Central on Dec. 12.
“She’s out for tomorrow, but her symptoms are going away,” Gross said. “You have to be 24-hours symptom free before they can test you, so she should be back (against N.C. Central) — hopefully before Thursday and her finals.”
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