CHAPEL HILL (AP) — Cetera DeGraffenreid scored 19 points to help No. 11 North Carolina rally past South Dakota 75-69 on Sunday in a tougher-than-expected tune-up for the NCAA tournament.
Jessica Breland added 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Tar Heels (27-6), who added the game to the schedule to fill the annual two-week gap between the end of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and the NCAAs. North Carolina was coming off a 95-84 loss to No. 4 Maryland in the ACC semifinals last week, ending a run of four straight league tournament titles.
The only problem was the Coyotes (18-11) didn’t play the role of the overmatched team despite the fact they’re in their first year of Division I competition. They hit 10 of their first 13 3-pointers to take a 41-32 halftime lead, then stretched it to 15 points on a 3 from Annie Roche early in the second half.
North Carolina finally got its offense going, taking its first lead since the opening minutes on a 3-pointer from DeGraffenreid with 11:44 left. Then, after the teams had traded baskets and the lead for several minutes, Breland put the Tar Heels ahead for good when she split a double team in the paint and scored for a 69-67 lead with 2:57 to play.
Christina Dewitt added an inside basket on the next possession to push that lead to four, a margin that the Tar Heels wouldn’t relinquish even though the outcome remained in doubt until the final seconds. They needed DeGraffenreid to make two free throws for a 73-69 lead 18.8 seconds left to keep control, then rebounded a 3-point attempt from Jasmine Mosley to effectively close the door on the Coyotes.
Ashley Wiemann scored 20 of her 23 points in the first half to lead South Dakota, which went 14-for-28 from 3-point range but made just four after halftime.
North Carolina shot 59 percent in the second half and took a 39-26 rebounding advantage against the undersized Coyotes.