The practice that followed North Carolina’s 45-point loss to Tennessee on Sunday naturally included a lot of running, but that wasn’t all coach Sylvia Hatchell wanted her team to get out of the defeat.
“We did do a lot of running on Monday,” freshman forward Xylina McDaniel said. “But the practice focused on rebounding and being physical inside the paint. We really just worked on rebounding because that was a weak point in our game.”
Despite turning the ball over 28 times against Radford on Wednesday night, the Tar Heels were nothing if not physical rebounders.
UNC bounced back from the weekend’s 45-point loss to defeat the Highlanders 64-44 in a game that featured 36 total fouls and 47 total turnovers. The whistle blew more often than either coach or any of the fans in attendance would have liked, but Hatchell said she was happy to see her team fix what had ailed it against the Volunteers: North Carolina out-rebounded the Highlanders by 25 after being out-rebounded by 14 in Knoxville.
Senior forward Krista Gross posted a career-high 17 rebounds, while senior center Waltiea Rolle put up a personal-best 24 points. The inside play, as it turned out, wasn’t the problem.
“Our guard play needs to be a little bit better,” Hatchell said. “With (Tierra) Ruffin-Pratt not out there, that made a really big difference. When Pratt’s back out there, it will cut down on a lot of the turnovers.”
Starting point guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, who suffered a concussion against Tennessee, was replaced by sophomore Latifah Coleman, whose 10 turnovers dwarfed her four assists. Hatchell said that fatigue — and an elbow to the head from a teammate during layup drills at halftime — likely kept Coleman from being as sharp as she usually is in her relieving role.
In the first half, UNC held the Highlanders to just 10 points on three-for-29 shooting, despite committing 16 turnovers in the first 20 minutes. At the break, UNC led 33-10, even though the Tar Heels struggled to get the ball inside at first.
“It’s pretty hard not having (Ruffin-Pratt) out there,” Rolle said. “She pretty much knows how to read me, she understands how i like the ball to be passed. It’s hard, but we have Latifah, and she does the same drills in practice. She’s capable.”
Hatchell said UNC made an offensive switch, placing three players in the post, that forced Radford to break its matchup zone and switch to man-to-man coverage. From then on, Rolle and McDaniel owned the paint, bowling over the smaller Highlanders left and right.
As in the first half, the second 20 minutes were broken up by turnovers and fouls. This half, however, Radford was able to take advantage of UNC’s guard situation and convert that advantage into points.
During one stretch, the Highlanders stole three straight Tar Heel inbounds passes and scored easy layups on each of them. Those plays spanned a 12-0 run by Radford that brought the Highlanders to within 11 at 48-37.
UNC pulled away thanks to two late 3-pointers from Gross and Brittany Rountree and the continued aggressive play of McDaniel and Rolle. Still, after losing the first half 33-10, Radford won the second, 34-31.
The Tar Heels don’t practice again until Sunday because of exams.
“A break will help us heal up a little bit,” Hatchell said. “But when we get back to practices, we’ll work on some fundamental things — like passing.”
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