UNC women top Duke 75-60
By Aaron Beard
CHAPEL HILL ó Eighth-ranked North Carolina looked as bad as it possibly could in a first half that coach Sylvia Hatchell could hardly stand to watch.
Making matters worse, it was coming against the Tar Heels’ fiercest rival.
“It was like a nightmare,” Hatchell said.
Rashanda McCants helped the Tar Heels finally start looking like themselves again.
The senior scored 19 of her 22 points in the second half to help North Carolina beat No. 4 Duke 75-60 on Monday night. Jessica Breland added 14 points and a career-high 23 rebounds.
The Tar Heels (21-3, 6-2 ACC) trailed the Blue Devils (19-3, 7-2) by 12 points in a first half filled with missed shots and turnovers. UNC got back in it with a spurt just before halftime, then shot 64 percent and scored 50 points after the break.
McCants sparked the offensive turnaround, hitting 8 of 9 shots after the break.
“I’m a senior. I’m supposed to wake up,” McCants said. “I kind of put everything on my back, and I credit my teammates for getting me easy baskets.”
The Tar Heels have won nine of the past 11 meetings after losing 12 straight in the series from 2000-04. North Carolina won all three meetings by double figures last year, including an 82-51 rout in Chapel Hill to end the regular season and hand Duke its worst loss in 15 years.
Unlike last season, Duke didn’t look afraid of North Carolina’s trapping pressure defense or its transition attack. Instead, the Blue Devils used an opportunistic defense to slow the Tar Heels while keeping control of the tempo early. The problem was the Blue Devils couldn’t fully take advantage of the Tar Heels’ early offensive struggles or build a big enough lead to weather an inevitable run.
And once McCants got going, North Carolina finally resembled the team that has ranked among the nation’s best.
The Blue Devils had allowed opponents to average 55 points per game on 34 percent shooting. North Carolina finished at 46 percent, a season-high for a Duke opponent.
“It’s frustrating when you pride yourselves on defense,” Duke senior Abby Waner said. “We say we’re a defensive team, then we give up that many points in the second half. That’s absurd.”
McCants scored seven points during a 12-2 run that pushed the Tar Heels ahead for good. With the score tied at 46, she started the run with a pair of layups in transition, then helped break Duke’s press and assisted on Breland’s layup before scoring off a feed from Breland two possessions later.
Then, after a 3-pointer from She’la White, McCants buried a 3-pointer over Waner from in front of North Carolina’s bench to beat the shot clock and give North Carolina a 61-51 lead with 4:47 left.
The Tar Heels also helped themselves by taking better care of the ball. North Carolina committed 20 turnovers in the first half ó its fourth straight game with at least 20 ó but had nine after halftime with several coming after the Tar Heels had built a double-digit lead.
McCants was the only player on either team to have much success on offense, though Cetera DeGraffenreid had a strong second half and finished with 15 points. Breland shot just 5-for-14, though she finished with five blocks and six steals in 37 minutes. It was the most rebounds by a Tar Heel player since Charlotte Smith had 23 in the 1994 NCAA championship game.
“Coach Hatchell asked for 15,” Breland said. “With 15 minutes left on the clock, I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got 15 more minutes to rebound.”‘
Duke had things going its way early, holding the league’s top scoring offense to 13 points in the first 16 1/2 minutes. But the Tar Heels closed the first half with a 12-2 spurt that ended when White made a high-arcing floater over Chante Black just before the horn to cut Duke’s lead to 27-25 by halftime.
Then, trailing 38-31, North Carolina pushed ahead with a 15-3 spurt and took its first lead at 40-39 on DeGraffenreid’s three-point play with 13:32 left.
“The reality is we still had the (halftime) lead,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “There’s absolutely no excuse for our performance in the second half. I mean, none whatsoever.”
Black scored 13 points to lead Duke but missed 11 of 15 shots while facing constant double teams inside. Waner added 12 points for the Blue Devils.
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