CHAPEL HILL - With an 80-79 victory over then No. 2-ranked Oklahoma, North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said her team took away one essential notion from Norman, Okla.: "We can play with anybody."
Hatchell's Tar Heels improved to 5-0 by knocking off the Sooners on Sunday and have now climbed to No. 2 in The Associated Press top 25 poll.
"We're getting better," said Hatchell, whose team was outrebounded, 46-44, but not run over by Oklahoma's 6-foot4 center Courtney Paris. The All-America scored 15 points and had 12 rebounds, though could not keep UNC junior forward Jessica Breland from a career-high 31 points.
Hatchell, in her 23rd season with the Heels, reveled in the NCAA Tournament atmosphere. She kept telling her players in the huddle, "this is fun."
She also kept to her formula of using multiple players - 10 - and instructing them to run until it hurt. Endurance and speed, in this case, saved the Heels who were undersized. It's an weapon that could serve them well as the season continues. Few will keep up if they go full throttle for 40 minutes.
Hatchell was pleased that her group rebounded better than they had against Xavier. Against the Muskateers, they were sluggish and out of position. She said they boxed out better. Can they consistently rebound will be the long-term question to watch as the season unfolds.
After Monday's shoot-around, Hatchell took a few minutes to review the win over the Sooners. She touched on rebounding better, playing in a championship atmosphere (yes, she would like to see more fans in the home seats) and the play of freshman Chay Shegog, who was named ACC Rookie of the Week.
Note - North Carolina has averaged crowds of 2,248 in four home games at the Smith Center.