CHAPEL HILL – There were four players on the North Carolina women’s basketball bench wearing sweat pants, white polo shirts and some form of black medical boot or knee brace.
Those injured players didn’t prevent a UNC 95-53 rout of Lipscomb on Wednesday night, though their absence has placed the No. 18 Tar Heels in an usual position early this season.
With just eight available players, the Heels have had to temper their breakneck defensive style while maintaining a respectful intensity in trademark fastbreak offensive. They have also had to count on role players and newcomers.
Against Penn State, who last week rolled to a 103-84 victory over the injury-plagued team in a Big Ten/ACC Challenge game, the Heels were hard-pressed to keep pace. They made out better against the Bisons – an Atlantic Sun team from Nashville, Tenn.
“We’re still playing our game,” UNC senior center Chay Shegog said.
Running away from their over-matched opponents, the Heels had four players score in double figures, including Shegog, who scored a career-high 26 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
The 6-foot-5 center, who leads the team with 14.3 points per game, made 8 of 18 attempts from the floor and 10 of 13 attempts from the free throw line. She also finished with five blocks and three steals in 30 minutes.
“She was just in one of those moods where you couldn’t stop her,” UNC junior Krista Gross said. “Once Shay turns that on ... she’s just one of those people who’s made up her mind, she’s going to get there.”
Gross scored a career-high 21 points and 11 points, while freshman Danielle Butts added a career-high 16 points, five rebounds and three steals.
Reserve guard Candace Wood also had a career game with 14 points in 23 minutes. She hit 4 of 7 3-point attempts.
“I just kept shooting,” said Wood, who empathized with her injured teammates after an ACL injury left her sidelined for two seasons. “I said, ‘I feel your pain.’”
The Heels entered the season shorthanded without junior Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, whose shoulder surgery left her off the roster with a possible return in the new year. She currently undergoing rehabilitation.
Also, junior center Waltiea Rolle gave birth to her daughter in November and will not enroll in school until the second semester. She is unlikely to play this season.
But other injuries have shortened the roster even more.
On Wednesday, the Heels were without senior forward Laura Broomfield, who has a stress reaction in her left foot. She is averaging 14.0 points and 12.8 rebounds per game.
Freshman guard Shannon Smith has strained her hamstring and is day-to-day.
UNC sophomore guard Latifah Coleman tore her left anterior cruciate ligament and will have surgery over the Christmas break. She is unlikely to return this season.
“I’ve never had this many injuries,” UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “We’re not able to get out their and do things defensively that I want to do and that we’ve traditionally done and that we’ve been known for. I’m not able to do that because of our numbers and having some people not in the right position.”