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Monday August 15th

For the first time in years, UNC women's basketball is ready for successful season

Redshirt senior guard Paris Kea (22) performs a layup during the Tar Heel's 100-69 season opener win against Elon University at the Schar Center in Elon, North Carolina Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.
Buy Photos Redshirt senior guard Paris Kea (22) performs a layup during the Tar Heel's 100-69 season opener win against Elon University at the Schar Center in Elon, North Carolina Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

The past few years have marked a rough stretch for the North Carolina women’s basketball team.

Head coach Sylvia Hatchell's program has arguably been affected the most by the academic scandal that shook UNC athletics.

Due to a variety of factors, including untimely transfers, season-ending injuries and near-constant scrutiny, the Hall of Fame coach has struggled to keep a once-elite program – one she built into a national power — afloat. In fact, the program's last NCAA Tournament appearance was in the 2014-2015 season. But there is hope that this season will be different.

“The last few years have been torture,” Hatchell said after UNC's exhibition win over Carson-Newman on Nov. 1. “There's quite a bit of differences in our team this year and how we've been these last couple of years."

Hatchell’s 2018-19 squad returns four starters from a team that finished with a lackluster (15-16, 4-12 ACC) record last season. Hatchell is expecting bigger things from this current group and the team has started the season with a 2-0 mark.

The Tar Heels are returning many valuable contributors, such as redshirt senior Paris Kea, a 2018 First Team All-ACC selection, and sophomore center Janelle Bailey, the 2018 ACC Freshman of the Year. UNC also welcomed back from injury redshirt junior guards Stephanie Watts, the 2016 ACC Freshman of the Year, and Destinee Walker, a former ACC All-Freshman Team selection in 2016. Both missed the entirety of last season due to knee injuries. 

Add in junior guard Shayla Bennett, a transfer from Gulf Coast State College, to an already skilled roster, and the Tar Heels now have various pieces to a puzzle that might result in the deepest and most talented team Hatchell has had in quite some time.

“We’ve finally got through the last few years and got back to how I’d like to play,” Hatchell said. “We’re playing very up-tempo and I really like what we’re doing.” 

Typically, the best teams Hatchell has coached during her now 33-year tenure with UNC have had one trait in common — they like to play fast.

After having to slow down these past few years due to a lack of depth, Hatchell finally has the bodies necessary to incorporate the up-tempo style of play that she’s been known for throughout her entire career.

“We’re back to playing like I love to play — transition, up and down the floor,” Hatchell said. “I love to run. I love the fast break. I love to let them show their skills and abilities. That’s what I like — a lot of movement and a lot of motion."

In a limited sample size of just three games so far (one exhibition and two regular season), the Tar Heels have used their defense to create tempo. By the end of contests against Carson-Newman and Elon, UNC had forced each team to commit 23 turnovers. Against Kent State, the Tar Heels caused 18 turnovers.

If Hatchell’s team can maintain this tempo and control the pace of the game for an entire 40 minutes, the Tar Heels could fare better than their projected seventh place finish in the conference, according to ACC coaches.

“I call it organized chaos,” Hatchell said. “I think that’s fun for them. This is what I love. Our great teams have always played up-tempo like this.”

UNC finally has a full team at its disposal. If everything goes well and the roster stays intact for the whole year, Hatchell believes her team might be able to surprise some people by the season’s end. 

“I think we’re back to being what I expect," Hatchell said, after the Nov. 6 win over Elon. "If we can stay healthy, I think we’re going to have a great season. I’m excited about the possibilities this team has.”

@KEberly1996

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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