All things considered, the comeback seemed improbable.
At halftime, the North Carolina women’s basketball team trailed Colorado, 47-32. UNC struggled to score in the first 20 minutes and relied on redshirt junior Paris Kea to create offense. Coming off the heels of a Friday loss in the season opener to Hampton, which competes in the MEAC, North Carolina’s situation seemed dire.
At halftime, Hall of Fame head coach Sylvia Hatchell had a message for her team.
“I tried to challenge them to compete harder and just correct a few things defensively,” she said. “It was about rebounding and challenging them to have the heart and passion to compete harder.”
The team took that message to heart.
North Carolina came out of the locker room re-energized, gained a sizable rebounding advantage and threw Colorado off with a 2-3 zone. The Buffaloes didn't score a field goal for over three minutes during a third-quarter drought.
North Carolina began to chip away at the Buffaloes’ lead. Senior guard Jamie Cherry scored twice in the first three possessions of the second half, and then hit Kea streaking on a fast break for an and-one finish. With less than two minutes left in the third quarter, the Tar Heels had come within two, but two late threes from Colorado gave it a 59-51 lead entering the fourth.
At that point, Cherry and Kea entered full takeover mode.
“We were calling plays for these two to get shots,” Hatchell said, “and they produced.”
The pair ended up combining for 34 points and seven assists after halftime. A clutch play from Cherry put North Carolina ahead late in the game.
With 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter — and the Tar Heels down, 72-71 — Cherry received a pass from Kea at the top of the arc. She stared down her defender and let it fly.
“Every time I pass it off to Jamie, I know I’m getting an assist,” Kea said.
Swish. Cherry drained the shot that put the Tar Heels up two, and Kea got her assist. She tapped three fingers to her left temple in celebration — one finger for each point she just put on the board.
“It was exciting because we fought hard to come back and put ourselves in that position,” Cherry said.
However, that shot wasn’t enough to put North Carolina up for good. The following possession, Colorado converted on a layup that sent the game to overtime.
In overtime, however, Kea proved to be too much for the Buffaloes — just like she had all game. Ivory Latta, a former Tar Heel and 2006 ACC Player of the Year, gave voice to that sentiment on an overtime possession when Kea caught a pass on the left block and posted up her defender.
Latta prophetically screamed at the Tarboro native from the sidelines: “Oh yeah, buckets! Buckets!” Kea turned around and laid it off the glass over the Colorado guard for two of her seven overtime points.
UNC would go on to win, 87-80, in overtime. With the absence of the injured Destinee Walker and Stephanie Watts, Kea and Cherry knew that as veteran leaders, they needed to step up.
“They definitely bring a lot to the table,” Kea said of Walker and Watts. “I know with them out, me and Jamie have to play for a whole forty minutes, or more.”
Hatchell recognized their importance as well.
“They’re our leadership," she said. "You know Jamie is our only senior and, right now, Paris is our only junior. They’re two great players, and young kids look to them.
"They have to put the team on their back at the end.”
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