In that time the No. 15 Tar Heels had watched a nine-point lead slip right through their fingers. Virginia guard Mikayla Venson penetrated, spun around her defender and finished the floater in the lane to tie the game at 70 with 21 seconds left.
With time winding down, sophomore Allisha Gray drove to the basket and missed the layup high off the glass. Overtime seemed likely, but not if sophomore Stephanie Mavunga had anything to say about it.
“One thing I don’t like, I don’t really like going into overtime,” Mavunga said. “I like winning in regulation.”
And win in regulation is exactly what she did for her team. Mavunga collected the Gray miss and hit the shot to give the Tar Heels (23-6, 10-5 ACC) a 72-70 lead as time expired.
As Mavunga’s teammates jumped from the bench to mob her and celebrate, the referees checked to see if Mavunga’s shot had left her hand before the buzzer. There was no doubt in her teammate’s mind, though.
“When they went to review the play, I already knew it was going in,” senior Brittany Rountree said.
Mavunga’s shot gave Rountree exactly what she wanted on her Senior Night — a win.
“I just didn’t want to lose on Senior Night and neither did anyone else,” Rountree said. “Just winning for my team was set in stone for me.”
It wasn’t all smiles on Senior Night though, as the Tar Heels struggled at the beginning of the game, falling behind Virginia (16-12, 6-9 ACC) by as many as 12 points with 11 minutes and 52 seconds remaining in the first half.
“I’ve been doing this what, 40 years?” Coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “This is pretty typical for Senior Night. It happens almost every time. The first few minutes — especially if you have a lot of seniors like we did — people are caught up in the emotions and all that, but we had to sort of settle down.”
It took an early timeout to calm the players.
“I said, ‘Look, I told you they were going to come out ready to play. The game has started. Senior Night is over. We need to step it up here,’” Hatchell said. “I didn’t chew them out, I just tried to get them to get things picked up a little bit.”
The Tar Heels responded with a 15-0 run starting a minute after UVa.’s 12-point lead.
But on a night when Mavunga was the hero, it was the senior who earned the coach’s praise.
Rountree stopped guarding UVa.’s highest scorer on the night, Faith Randolph, due to foul trouble, but with the game on the line, she wanted the tough assignment.
Hatchell let Rountree faceguard Randolph, just like the senior wanted. It went exactly as Rountree planned.
“We put (Rountree) on (Randolph) and facegaurded her and didn’t let her get the ball,” Hatchell said. “That was major. That was as big as (Mavunga’s shot). I want to give credit where credit is due.”