The look on Janelle Bailey's face as the postgame news conference began told the story, one of the North Carolina women’s basketball team showing its potential for success but once again coming up empty-handed, this time in a 64-63 loss to Florida State in the team’s ACC home opener.
Not that long beforehand, the sophomore center scored her 16th point of the day to give the Tar Heels a four-point lead with just over three minutes remaining in the game against FSU, a quality opponent which entered Carmichael Arena on a nine-game winning streak. On the ensuing defensive possession, Bailey, playing through pain gained from a physical, nothing-will-come-easy conference battle, drew a charge. She was visibly gratified from the effort she and her teammates had put in during the second half to erase a nine-point halftime deficit.
Then, basketball’s version of death by a thousand paper cuts did UNC in, dropping the Tar Heels (9-7) to 0-2 in conference play for a third consecutive season. Florida State, previously stymied by UNC’s second-half adjustment of playing more zone defense, ended the game on a 10-5 run, with eight of those points coming at the free-throw line. The Seminoles couldn’t hit from the field (they shot 28 percent during the second half) but managed to win the game at the charity stripe, drawing fouls repeatedly with dribble drives against two of UNC’s premier guards: Paris Kea and Stephanie Watts, both of whom fouled out during FSU’s late rally.
“It’s very unusual that you would play at home and your experienced star players foul out,” said UNC head coach Sylvia Hatchell, who commented that she thought FSU’s players “were jumping into us,” as the Seminoles got to the free-throw line at will down the stretch.
The loss is the latest example of UNC at times providing validation to Hatchell’s optimism about this year’s Tar Heels but not having a win to show for it.
After Hatchell became the ACC’s all-time wins leader with a victory against UNC Greensboro on Dec. 14, the North Carolina head coach said: “I want to win more championships for these kids. I think we have the makings of that.”
Since then, in addition to earning wins against Rice and Howard, the Tar Heels couldn’t hold on to a late lead against Auburn, erased a 19-point deficit down to two at No. 3 Louisville but ultimately came up short in an attempt at earning the program’s most significant win in years, and against the Seminoles saw a quality win methodically disappear at the opposing free-throw line.
“People have got to understand – everybody – that this team is a really good team,” Hatchell said. “It’s not the team that went through this NCAA stuff the last couple of years. I’ve got to do something to get the respect back that this team deserves; that really concerns me more than anything else.”
UNC jumped out to an early 8-3 lead, with all points coming from Watts. But outside of that bright start, the Tar Heels’ first half was lethargic. Offensively, the Seminoles beat the Tar Heels off the dribble on offense and were content to let the Tar Heels shoot outside shots (UNC made 3 of 13 3-pointers before halftime).