Say that it’s diving into the scorer’s table, recklessly abandoning all regard for one’s self. Or standing tall, solitary in the face of a charging opponent. Maybe it’s just sprinting — not jogging or skipping — but hauling across the hardwood so quickly that it becomes impossible to stop, not to fall to one’s knees.
In these moments, games are won. More importantly, in these moments, seasons are won.
For now, the No. 12 North Carolina women’s basketball team won’t remember those plays, those junctures in time. They, as every team does, will see the numbers, small yellow lights that burn the final score — a 74-67 overtime loss to No. 15 Duke — onto a black casing.
Thirty-three, the career-best number of points Duke’s Elizabeth Williams had. Forty-six, the number of points Duke amassed in the paint, more than double UNC’s 18. Five, the number of three-point shots the Tar Heels converted, except it took them 30 attempts.
“If we had just knocked down a couple more threes, we’d be happy right now,” said UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell.
But once the numbers fade away, when the lights in Carmichael Arena finally dim and the players return back to their dorms, then those moments become clearer. For the sake of the future, ruminating on the good becomes more important than the bad.
This won’t be the first time this team has hurt. Junior Xylina McDaniel, then-third on the team in scoring, suffered a lower right leg injury during UNC’s Dec. 21 win over Elon. The doctor said her season was likely over — the same could not be said for her teammates.
“I remember thinking ‘Wow, sheesh, this is so much different from when Z was here,’ but at the same time, we’ve been playing without Z,” Stephanie Mavunga said. “You know you’ve got to suck it up and you can’t make excuses like ‘Oh, if Z was here, this that and the other.’
“She’s not here. You’ve got to get over it.”
And they did.
The Tar Heels, although they dropped games to Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, had still won six of their last eight games. Four of those have come in ACC play, including the most recent notch in their cap, knocking off in-state rival N.C. State on the road.
“TV guys were at practice today and they said, ‘Come Monday, we’re probably gonna have six teams from the ACC in the Top 25,’” Hatchell said. “Playing in this league is like being in the Final Four. I still think we’re one of the top teams in the league, and we’ll learn from this.”
But where do they start? Maybe at the end.
With 3:36 left in the second half of Sunday’s game, the Tar Heels — as they had for much of the second half — trailed the Blue Devils 62-58.
Duke wouldn’t score again in regulation.
“I think you saw a lot of dives, a lot of loose balls and I think it was a heart game, very much a heart game,” Duke coach Joanne McCallie said. “It was a scrappy game. It was a very good defensive game, without question.
“Just a lot of heart and hustle on the floor.”
Stifling defense, topped off with a steal and an offensive rebound, helped UNC tie the game with 37 seconds left — the digits burned in the scoreboard. Another missed three by Duke gave UNC the ball with 8.3 seconds left. Timeout.
This, with the momentum, the chance and the ball, is the moment the Tar Heels will marinate on: that they were in position to win.
“I thought there at the end, when we drove in, we were gonna win the game,” Hatchell said.
What happened next was a blur. Senior guard Latifah Coleman dribbled the length of the court, drove to the basket and was blocked by Williams. Her putback attempt, an aimless heave, was late and off the mark.
In overtime, UNC was outscored 12-5 to seal the loss. So is it time to abandon ship and detonate the team?
“I don’t know about having to turn anything around,” Hatchell said. “Like I said, we make that shot at the end and you wouldn’t be asking me that question.”
After all, basketball is about more than just numbers.