They coached USA Basketball together in the 1980s, each have powerhouse collegiate women’s basketball programs, both are Naismith Hall of Fame inductees, and they have been close friends for decades. But Thursday night was the first time Coach Sylvia Hatchell and her team have faced off against her friend and Coach C. Vivian Stringer and Rutgers.
The meeting did not disappoint.
It took a 96-93 double overtime win for No. 6 North Carolina to outlast No. 18 Rutgers in the ACC/ Big Ten Challenge matchup. With the win, North Carolina’s loss column stays unblemished for an undefeated 8-0 record to begin the season.
Hatchell said games like these showcase what her game is all about.
“A great, great game for women’s basketball,” Hatchell said. “The skill level at times was just absolutely incredible. Even when the game was going on, and as we were going in to overtime, I thought, ‘Win or lose, this is just so good for the game.’”
The Tar Heels just returned from the Rainbow Wahine Showdown in Hawaii on Monday evening before traveling to Piscataway, N.J. on Wednesday. Hatchell voiced concerns about her player’s legs and stamina, and rightfully so.
After an 11-0 run to open the game, the Tar Heels faltered, allowing Rutgers to reestablish themselves. North Carolina’s sluggish play led to a 4-point deficit, giving Rutgers a 33-29 advantage at halftime. The Tar Heels shot just 39.4 percent from the field in the first half on 13-for-33 shots made, and were 2-for-10 from behind the 3-point arc.
Sophomore guard Allisha Gray was a model of consistency, though, beginning with the first basket of the game, a Gray 3-pointer. Gray carried North Carolina with her season-high 29 points on efficient 10-for-15 shooting, along with a team-high 11 rebounds and six assists, giving her an impressive double-double for the game. But it was Gray’s clutch shooting at the end of regulation that gave the Tar Heels a chance in overtime.
“It was definitely tiring, but it was just great to play a competitive game,” Gray said. “You live to play games like that. It all came down to heart. We were down 12; Coach Hatchell pulled us all together. Basically we won out of heart, playing together as one, never giving up. And the results showed.”
North Carolina fought back in the second half from a Rutgers 12-point lead to pull within five with fewer than two minutes to play. Gray’s timely three and two must-make free throws assured extra time would be needed to decide the victor between the two historic programs.
The Tar Heels took an early lead but the Scarlet Knights returned the favor, answering with their own five-point run in the final 32 seconds of the first overtime period to send the game to double overtime.
Layups by Gray and senior guard Latifah Coleman in the final minute of double overtime, along with two made free throws by Coleman, finally gave the edge to North Carolina, earning them the hard fought victory.
“I thought both teams fought hard and showed toughness,” Hatchell said. “I can’t say enough about my kids, how tough they played. It was just an honor to play in this game. It’s quite an honor when you play and you win a game like this against a legend like Vivian is.”
As Hatchell said, the two coaches are opponents, not enemies, and each was just trying to win a basketball game Thursday. But Hatchell had one more goal for the evening: to try to convince Stringer to buy a beach house near hers so they could hang out more often.
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