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UNC women's basketball's inexperience shows in 77-55 loss to Notre Dame

UNC guard Taylor Koenen (1) drives down the court against No.10 Notre Dame on Sunday.
UNC guard Taylor Koenen (1) drives down the court against No.10 Notre Dame on Sunday.

With Hillary Fuller, the team’s only senior, out for the season with a right knee injury, head coach Sylvia Hatchell needed UNC’s (12-8, 1-6 ACC) bevy of underclassmen to step up against the Fighting Irish (18-3, 6-1 ACC).

“But we just got to get a little bit better,” Hatchell said. “And we got to do a better job with our inside game and our rebounding because I think our guards are playing pretty dog-gone good.”

Paris Kea took the challenge. Well, at least at first. The redshirt sophomore stole the show in the first quarter, putting up 15 points while no one else on the team had more than three. Notre Dame did not have an answer for her quickness, and she was the sole reason UNC hung around in the period.

“Kea was a huge problem,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. “We had no answer for her. She scored in a lot of different ways. She drove it. She shot it. She posted us up. She’s a really, really talented player.”

But inexperience is not something easily hidden, and it did not take long for Notre Dame to unmask it.

Eight first-years make up UNC’s team. In contrast, the Fighting Irish have only two, and that age discrepancy showed up the most in the second quarter.

Kea’s production dropped off, and sophomore guard Stephanie Watts was the only one to step up and take charge.

“Overall I think we’re pretty hopeful in what we see from the team knowing we do have eight freshmen and just how much they’re going to progress as the season goes on,” Watts said. “So I think we just have to make a point to do it.”

Hatchell said she has a play card filled with offensive plays and sets to beat whatever the defense throws at UNC. But with so many youngsters pressed into action thanks to Fuller’s injury, she thought it might be time to make it easier on them.

“For those players, that this time last year were playing in high school ... it’s like a foreign language to them,” she said. “So that’s why I’m saying maybe we need to simplify things a little more and lock in on a few things and perfect those.”

Fuller was the team’s most experienced screener. She perfected the dance that is setting ball screens for her guards — sometimes setting a hard pick to free up space, other times slipping down low and opening up options in the teeth of the defense.

Without Fuller, North Carolina’s inexperienced post players don’t know how to walk that fine line, and it showed Sunday. Hatchell shared, though, how hard her first-years work, as they have spent extra time in practice with assistant coach Sylvia Crawley to work on individual drills.

Without any upperclassmen left in the post, UNC’s younger players will have to make do and gain needed experience to win more ACC games, and quickly.

“I want to keep working and develop these kids that we’ve got,” Hatchell said. “And I think we can make a lot of noise.”

sports@dailytarheel.com

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