Staff photo by Chuck Liddy
CHAPEL HILL — A gritty, some times ugly, come-from-behind, upset victory over No. 4 Duke on Monday night prompted North Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell to take the microphone at the conclusion of the game and address the crowd she said made the win possible.
“I’m sorry for the first 17 minutes of the game,” Hatchell said. “The last 23 was with a lot of heart.”
Heart, possibly, but certainly improved shooting. The No. 8 Tar Heels (21-3, 6-2) shot 32 percent in the first half, then followed that with a 64 percent effort in the second half, rallying from a 12-point deficit to take a 75-60 victory over the Devils (19-3, 7-2) before an announced crowd of 7,080 at the Smith Center.
UNC’s Rashanda McCants scored 16 of her game-high 22 points in the second half and contributed 11 points during a critical second-half run that pulled them ahead of the Devils.
Jessica Breland added 14 points and career-high 23 rebounds, while guard Cetera DeGraffenreid scored 15 points.
The Devils were held to 29 percent shooting for the game.
It was the fourth consecutive UNC victory over Duke in a series that has been filled with streaks over the past 10 seasons and looked like this: Duke won 12, UNC won five, Duke won two, and UNC’s three-game sweep last season, including a 86-73 victory in the ACC Tournament championship game.
These teams meet again on March 1 in the final ACC regular-season game for both.
For most of the first half, Duke appeared in control, finding no problem with UNC’s up-tempo style and often benefiting from mistakes – mishandled catches, errant passes – that were a result of the Heels’ breakneck pace.
The Heels, some times flying down the court seemingly without a plan, were twice called for charges early in the first half and committed 20 turnovers. They fell behind 11-4 as the Devils attacked the basket with dribble-drives and stick-back layups.
Duke would push its lead to 25-11 with 3:27 left as Duke’s Chante Black converted two free throws.
That lead would not hold as the Heels forced the Devils into tougher shots and turnovers and layup by layup found footing in the game.
Over the final two minutes of the first half, with the pace of the game picking up from a trot to a sprint, the Heels whittled away at the lead and went into halftime down 27-25.
UNC freshman guard She’la White’s floater from the baseline splashed through the net as the buzzer sounded, cutting Duke’s lead to two and sending the Heels into halftime with restored confidence.
White, who has gained Hatchell’s confidence to shoot from the perimeter, struck again during the Heels critical second-half run.
UNC’s point guard Cetera DeGraffenried drove into the lane with 13:32 remaining gave the Heels their first lead, 40-39, and sent them on a 21-9 run.
White’s 3-pointer nearly eight minutes later would put the Heels on top by 10 points and signaled the final shift of a game the Devils could not climb back into.