As the final seconds ticked off the clock during the North Carolina women’s basketball team’s 83-62 win against UNC Greensboro, Sylvia Hatchell’s players encircled her.
The Tar Heel (7-4) head coach had just won her 740th game at the school, making her the ACC’s all-time wins leader ahead of former Virginia head coach Debbie Ryan. And out of the corner of her eye, Hatchell saw the dreaded Gatorade cooler. She feared the worst: an ice-cold soaking.
Instead, blue and white confetti fell on Hatchell, who was once again serenaded for achieving another career milestone nearly one year after she reached the 1,000-win mark last season.
“I was trying to get the heck out of dodge,” Hatchell said. “I was like, 'No, no, no, no. I don’t want any of that now. I’ve seen too many of those.' But I was glad it was confetti and not the real stuff.”
As far as what the actual honor means to her, Hatchell’s“very thankful and grateful” but said “it’s hard to believe” because she’s so consumed with her current team.
“All I’m thinking about is the game we’re in or the next game,” Hatchell said.
And with this year’s Tar Heels, Hatchell has high hopes. UNC has earned quality wins against teams such as UCLA and South Florida and played in tight losses against Kentucky and Ohio State before losing at home to Maine. The UNC head coach sees a “well-oiled machine” when looking at her group of players.
There’s sophomore center Janelle Bailey, who posted her sixth double-double of the season (23 points, 10 rebounds) against UNCG. Stephanie Watts, a former ACC Freshman of the Year, is providing scoring in bunches in her first year back after missing all of last season due to injury, and junior college transfer Shayla Bennett has shown playmaking ability at point guard.
“I want to win more championships for these kids,” Hatchell said. “I think we have the makings of that. We still got a few weaknesses and all, but we can do some things to overcome some of that, and we’re going to get better. And as soon as we can get everyone healthy out there… if we can get everyone out there healthy, we can be really good.”
UNC was without redshirt senior guard Paris Kea for a second straight game on Friday because of a foot injury. Kea, who’s third on the team in scoring with 14.2 points per game, hasn’t played since Dec. 2 in the Tar Heels’ loss to Maine. According to Hatchell, Kea has received platelet-rich plasma therapy to help with her injury and so has redshirt junior guard Destinee Walker, who’s sidelined with a hip issue. The hope is for Kea to possibly return to action when the Tar Heels play Rice and Auburn in Myrtle Beach next week, Hatchell said. Walker probably won’t be ready until conference play begins.
“Biggest thing (Kea) is having to adjust to is no pain,” Hatchell said. “Because she’s been playing for so long with it hurting, you know. But it’s not bothering her right now; it’s a little bit sore but not hurting like it was.”
Even without Kea, UNC’s victory against the UNCG came without much trouble. North Carolina led 25-13 after the first quarter and never saw its lead get down to single-digits from there.
Playing in their first game in nine days due to final exams and the winter storm which dumped snow on Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels started out “very, very lethargic” in the first few minutes, Hatchell said.
Even Bailey missed her first four shots. But once the 6-foot-4 sophomore found her groove, UNCG couldn’t stop her. Bailey was a force on the inside, got to the free-throw line and even hit a 3-pointer. After attempting zero 3-pointers last season, Bailey has connected on 4 of 14 this season.
“Coming out of high school, that was something that not just Coach Hatchell but everyone wanted me to work on my jump shot period,” Bailey said. “I showed a little bit of it last year but once the season was over I knew that was one of my main goals. To be a post player, especially now, you can’t be one-dimensional.”
Someone who has taken a lot of 3-pointers for the Tar Heels is sophomore Leah Church. After making over 40 percent of her attempts from downtown last season, Church entered Friday’s game having made just 5 of 19 3-pointers this season.
But against the Spartans, Church scored nine points and made all three shots from long distance. Her first make of the night came even after the pass thrown to her went to her feet. Church went low to catch the pass and still squared up, sticking to her form.
“Whenever my first one goes in, it’s usually a good confidence booster for me,” Church said. “I haven’t shot as well as I’ve wanted to this year, but I try to stay in the gym, keep my confidence up.”
Hatchell was most pleased with her team’s 27 assists on 32 made shots from the field. That made for a relatively straightforward night for UNC, one that ended with hats being given out to coaches and players to commemorate Hatchell’s newest achievement.
“Another hat … need another ring,” Hatchell said while leaving her news conference.
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