Everything seemed set up perfectly for North Carolina. The
11th-ranked Tar Heels had a huge lead against a longtime rival and
would head into a matchup with Connecticut with a coach-pleasing
Instead, the Tar Heels struggled to finish.
They blew nearly all of a 24-point lead in the second half
before holding on to beat North Carolina State 83-76 on Friday
night, which certainly wasn’t what Sylvia Hatchell wanted to see
from her team days before the two-time defending national champions
arrive in Chapel Hill.
”They kept fighting out there and we got real lackadaisical and
then let them come back,” Hatchell said. ”I’m happy for the win
but not the way we lost our focus in the second half. … We need
to learn from this and get ready for Monday night because if we
make some of the mistakes we made tonight (against UConn), then we
will pay dearly for them.”
Italee Lucas scored 19 points to lead the Tar Heels (16-1, 2-1
Atlantic Coast Conference), while Chay Shegog added 13 points as
North Carolina avenged last year’s surprising home loss to the
Wolfpack (9-8, 1-2). North Carolina used an 11-0 run to build a
comfortable lead, led by 16 at halftime and increased that margin
to 62-38 early in the second half.
And yet, the Tar Heels ended up having to make a couple of free
throws – and withstand a few missed desperate shots from N.C. State
– in the final minute to close this one out.
N.C. State scored 50 points in the second half, a bad sign for
the Tar Heels as they prepare for the Huskies on Monday night.
”I think our team is ready,” said fifth-year senior Jessica
Breland, who had 10 points and nine rebounds. ”We take every game
we’ve had already and we learn from it and our mistakes. I feel
it’s going to be a great game.”
Marissa Kastanek did everything possible to help the Wolfpack
nearly complete a stunning comeback. The sophomore scored a
career-high 30 points and hit six 3-pointers, the last of which
pulled N.C. State to within five points with 17 seconds left.
”I just never quit,” said Kastanek, who was sporting a black
eye from her last game and left this one briefly in the first half
after being hit in the mouth underneath the basket. ”That’s not
something I’ve ever done and I think that the team in the locker
room (at halftime) was like, ‘We still have a chance.”’
Last season, N.C. State gave Kellie Harper a win in her first
trip here as N.C. State’s coach. The Wolfpack ended a six-game
losing streak in the series and walked off the court with screams
of delight as they celebrated the program’s first win in Chapel
Hill in six years.
It might have been one of the lowest moments for the Tar Heels
in a frustrating year. But the Tar Heels have looked a lot more
like themselves so far this season, and now that includes a 19th
win in 22 meetings with their nearby rivals.
The Wolfpack wouldn’t let the Tar Heels coast to the finish in
the final 13 minutes. Kastanek’s fifth 3 cut the lead to 65-56 with
about 8 1/2 minutes left before the Tar Heels answered with six
straight points to push the margin back to 15.
N.C. State twice closed to within eight points in the final 4
minutes, then seven, then got a catch-and-shoot 3 from Kastanek to
make it 81-76 with 17 seconds left.
N.C. State won’t have to look far for reasons it fell so far
behind. After scoring the game’s first seven points, the Wolfpack
went completely cold, missing 29 of 36 shots as the Tar Heels built
their big lead. N.C. State finished the game shooting just 32
percent, with Amber White and Brittany Strachan combining for 10
points on 2-for-23 shooting.
”It’s tough to play even with them, much less come back,”
Harper said. ”I just wish we could have dialed in on our tempo
earlier. That would’ve helped us.”
The game even featured a bit of rivalry spice late in the first
half. As Lucas buried a 3 for a 42-25 less than a minute before the
break, Breland pushed N.C. State freshman Breezy Williams to the
floor. Williams then tried to grab Breland’s leg as the fifth-year
senior ran by, and both players soon were soon chest to chest and
jawing at each other before being separated by teammates and