This time last year, North Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell and the NCAA were on poor terms.
But as UNC heads into its first-round game Sunday against Albany as a three seed a year later, Hatchell seems to have reconciled her differences with the selection committee.
“A lot of people were surprised, but I wasn’t,” she said of UNC’s high seeding. “We’re 28-6, and of the six games we lost, three were to Duke, and then at FSU, at Tennessee and at Maryland — all top-ranked teams on the road. We had no bad losses at all.
“I agree with the committee. I think we deserve the three seed.”
Although they bowed out early to Georgia Tech in last year’s ACC Tournament, the Tar Heels still felt they deserved a national tournament bid. But the NCAA selection committee didn’t agree, and it’s been a sore point that has motivated this year’s squad from day one.
“Not making the tournament is just not acceptable at all,” senior forward Krista Gross said in October before this season began. “But that’s all just fuel to the fire. We’re definitely expecting to come in and do some damage.”
Now, a year after ending its season prematurely, UNC finds itself near the top of the Bridgeport, Conn., region bracket and leaves today for Newark, Del.
Should UNC defeat 14th-seeded Albany, it will face on Tuesday either sixth-seeded Delaware or West Virginia, the region’s No. 11 seed.
Maryland is the region’s four seed, and could conceivably meet the Tar Heels for the fourth time this season in the Elite Eight.
Hatchell said she was pleased with the path granted to her team, but it’s hard to imagine the Tar Heels complaining either way.
“Around this time last year, people were pretty much ready for the season to be over,” senior guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt said. “With this team, everybody wants to keep playing. Nobody’s ready for the season to be over, and the younger kids aren’t ready for the seniors to leave.”
UNC’s main focus, Hatchell said, will be returning to form after two weeks away from competition. But she said practices have been designed to keep her team sharp. And unlike last year’s injury-depleted team, sophomore guard Latifah Coleman’s knee pain is the Tar Heels’ only real medical concern.
Gross added that UNC’s recent experience in the ACC Tournament final has the younger Tar Heels well-prepared for the upcoming high-stakes games.
“A year ago today, we weren’t in practice,” Gross said. “I was probably in my room asleep right now. It’s just a whole different vibe — everybody’s excited and really expecting to do well.”
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