Last season, the North Carolina women’s basketball season was knocked out of the ACC Tournament in the quarterfinals by Georgia Tech and subsequently was not invited to the NCAA Tournament.
At 26-5, the No. 15 Tar Heels have a little less riding on this weekend’s tournament in Greensboro, but they’ll look to improve their shooting as they gear up for a likely NCAA berth.
UNC is tied for second with Maryland but lost a coin toss last week to take the three seed, earning the team a bye Thursday. Coach Sylvia Hatchell said the day off could make a difference if UNC is playing on Sunday for its 10th ACC title.
“We’re excited to have a bye, because it’s really hard to win a championship and play four days in a row,” Hatchell said. “We’ve been in that situation where we’ve got to the championship game and run out of gas a few years ago.”
UNC will play the winner of Boston College-Virginia in the quarterfinals today at 8 p.m.
The team’s regular season finale against Duke — a potential ACC final preview — ended with a 65-58 loss, but Hatchell said she was pleased with her team for committing fewer turnovers and grabbing more rebounds than Duke.
Senior point guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, who shot 5-for-23 from the field in that game, said the team has moved on from the loss.
“We played great defense, but we shot the ball horribly, so we kind of just put it behind us,” Ruffin-Pratt said. “(Tuesday) was our day off, and the whole team was in here still getting up shots.”
The Tar Heels have struggled shooting from the outside this season, but even more alarming is the team’s poor execution at the free-throw line.
UNC ranks next-to-last in the ACC in its free-throw shooting percentage, though the Tar Heels have made and attempted more free throws than any other ACC team.
The team’s knack for getting to the line is evidence of its aggressive play — the kind of play that has taken post players ACC Rookie of the Year Xylina McDaniel and All-ACC Defensive teamer Waltiea Rolle out of games with early foul trouble.
“If I talk to them about it, it seems that all of a sudden, in the first two minutes, they’ve got a couple fouls, and they’re sitting over there with us,” Hatchell said. “When those two can stay out there a longer period of time it definitely makes our defense better.”
McDaniel, who has averaged 12.4 points and 7.2 rebounds, said she needs to play smarter.
“I really need to learn how to become mentally stronger because once I got a whole bunch of fouls, then I really was out of the game,” McDaniel said of her four-foul game at Duke.
Hatchell said she’s confident in UNC’s ability to make a run in the tournament.
“If we just finish around the basket and make our foul shots then we can play with just about anybody,” Hatchell said.
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