North Carolina's Cetera DeGraffenreid (22) beats Clemson's Chancie Dunn (23) to the basket to score in the first half. CHUCK LIDDY - email@example.com
GREENSBORO -- The North Carolina women’s basketball team found new life in the ACC women’s basketball tournament on Thursday, snapping a four-game losing streak with a thorough, if not pretty, 78-64 victory over Clemson at the Greensboro Coliseum.
The No. 6 seed Tar Heels (23-7) finished the regular season with a deflating loss at Duke, though UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said she was pleased with her team’s effort against the Blue Devils.
With the regular season behind them, the Heels rolled over the No. 11 Tigers (10-20), who offered resistance, fighting to keep the game close in the first and second halves, but could not withstand the constant barrage of a talented team.
Finding their legs, the Heels used them, sprinting away from the Tigers midway through the second half.
The Heels face No. 3 Florida State Friday in the quarterfinal round at 8 p.m. They defeated the Seminoles 84-75 on Feb. 2, traveling to Tallahassee and dominating their opponents.
Hatchell challenged her players to elevate to that level, calling for them to showcase the full potential of their talent. She reminded her four seniors of the date on the calendar and how time for them was coming to a close.
Hatchell said she reminded them of how they all won conference tournament titles as freshmen.
“Just go out like they came in,” Hatchell said of her message. “To come over here and make a statement. And go out like they came in.”
Senior Italee Lucas, an All-ACC second team selection this week, scored a team-high 14 points, while seniors Cetera DeGraffenreid and Jessica Breland also responded to their coach’s request.
Hatchell encouraged Breland, who struggled near the end of the season and lost her starting role in a few games. She started at power forward on Thursday, producing an 11-point, six-rebound performance in 26 minutes.
“I felt pretty good,” Breland said. “Better than I have been.”
Breland spoke with assistant coach Andrew Calder and he told her to take more shots. Her hesitancy to shoot, he said, was hurting the team. She cleared the past from her mind and set out new beginning.
“I think we all did,” Breland said. “We didn’t have a great season. Not the season we wanted. You just have to let it go. Work for the future. Learn from your mistakes.”
DeGraffenreid, who leads the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio, added 11 points, a team-high eight assists, six steals and had just one turnover in 34 minutes.
North Carolina, which found its transition game against the less athletic Tigers, led 41-34 at halftime.
After dropping four in a row, the Heels looked headed toward a post-season debacle, similar to the meltdown they had last season. The Heels, without Breland and relying on a cast of freshmen, fell in the opening round of the conference tournament and were bounced in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“We just said, ‘This is a new season,’” Hatchell said.