That was how the North Carolina women’s basketball team played in its 90-70 victory over Hartford on Friday. But it wasn’t done without a little trouble in between.
The first quarter was a strong one for UNC. At the 3:01 mark, the Hawks turned the ball over which led to Naomi Van Nes adding two for her team. Less than two minutes later, the Tar Heels increased their lead to 24-14 after a Janelle Bailey jump shot.
At this point, Hartford head coach Kim McNeill was fired up, yelling at her team and pacing back and forth along the sidelines. UNC head coach Sylvia Hatchell was seated, relaxed and smiling.
And she had a reason to be: At the end of the first quarter, the Tar Heels were up 27-14.
The Hawks came out strong in the second quarter with a jumper by Sierra DaCosta. North Carolina struggled to find its groove when the Hartford defense forced a shot clock violation, and Mary Pattison nailed a 3-pointer soon after.
The whole bench and the sea of red behind it shot up in celebration. The Hawks had the momentum as UNC missed a 3-pointer, lost a fight on the floor for the ball and, right afterward, was called for a technical foul
At the end of the second quarter, North Carolina once again struggled to get a shot off in time, and ended up throwing it away in a scramble. UNC missed its last six shots from the field to close out the half, but still led 43-31.
The Tar Heels started the second half in the same funk, as the Hawks scored the first five points of the third. Hartford had the momentum as foul after foul was called on UNC, with disapproving boos heard from the crowd in Carmichael Arena and Jamie Cherry clearly upset with the refs.
At the 9:13 mark, UNC was called for its second technical foul. Both crowds were fired up now. Even Hatchell was out of her chair, raising her arms in disbelief and pointing up at the Jumbotron, which showed a replay of the call she took exception to.
Things continued to turn south for the Tar Heels, as Taylor Koenen had back-to-back turnovers and the Hawks nailed a 3-pointer to cut their deficit to 56-53.
Cherry stayed cool under pressure, securing a basket with just one second left on the shot clock. The crowd went wild as UNC finally had its mojo back.
Thanks to top scorers Bailey and Cherry, the Tar Heels had their momentum back in the fourth quarter to close out the game by 20 points.
A “Beyond Amazing” banner hung behind the UNC bench, perfectly representing the mood of everyone on it as the team improved to 5-2 on the season.
Bailey and Cherry contributed largely to the big win. Bailey had her third career double-double and a career-high 25 points, while Cherry added on an impressive 19 points. Thanks to Bailey, the Tar Heels had 57 rebounds as a team to Hartford's 24.
Both are big leaders on the team, but in polar opposite ways.
“I’m more of a silent leader,” Bailey admitted. “I know what Coach expects of me ,and I know what the team expects of me.”
“For me, it’s just being vocal and trying to gather everybody,” Cherry said. “I’ve been here the longest so I’ve been in situations like this, so just trying to stay calm and let them see me being calm.”
Hatchell was very happy with the team’s performance and improvement overall.
“I love the fact that we are finally getting on the boards and doing a much better effort with our rebounding,” Hatchell said. “I love how good this team could be. We’re young and we’re learning, and as we continue to get better, it’s going to be fun.”
“We are just light-years better than we were when we played the first game,” she added on with enthusiasm. “We’re going to continue to get better and that’s what’s fun.”
When asked what adjustments had to be made after the Hawks began to catch up, Cherry highlighted patience.
“I think just trying to get us to focus on the game and not focus so much on the referees," she said. "We took our time and we were patient with the ball. We valued the ball, which was the biggest part.”