UNC Women’s Basketball To Host Opening Rounds of NCAA

Selection Sunday provides a lot of attention on men’s college basketball, and had Carolina fans holding their breath to see how the Tar Heels would be seeded. But of course, it’s not only the UNC men’s team that will be trying to make a run in the NCAA tournament. Hall of Fame coach Sylvia Hatchell’s team received an at-large bid and was placed as a No. 4 seed in the Greensboro region after the tournament bracket was announced Monday afternoon.

Carolina will continue its postseason with a match against 13th-seeded Liberty on Saturday at 11 a.m. in Chapel Hill. That’s right. The Tar Heels will play the first two games of the tournament at home in historic Carmichael Arena.

A home-game hosting position is huge for Coach Hatchell’s team, who finished at 24-8 and spent its entire regular season ranked among the top-20 nationally. And she says this is the perfect scenario for the Heels to gain momentum and advance through the Big Dance.

“It was our goal to be one of the top-16 teams, to host the first two rounds, then to go to Greensboro. We can stay at home and we love Greensboro. We’ve played there a lot – then on to Tampa.”

Tampa, Florida is the host of this year’s Final Four, the last three games before an NCAA women’s basketball champion is announced. But before UNC reaches that mark, Carolina may have some challenges even in front of familiar crowds.

“There’s some added pressure with playing at home, too. People expect you to win,” Coach Hatchell said. “But the biggest thing is we’re here for our fans and now we need our fans to fill the place up. What else are you going to do at 11 o’ clock on Saturday morning? You’re too old to watch cartoons – well, I think. What else are you going to do? Come out and cheer us on to victory. “

Within Coach Hatchell’s 950-plus winning career, she and UNC are no strangers to big NCAA tournament games. Her team has made three appearances in the Final Four and won the 1994 national title. Also, Carolina has advanced to at least the regional semifinal game in 14 of its last 19 NCAA Tournament appearances, most recently last season when the Tar Heels reached the Elite Eight as a No. 4 seed.

Their opponent, Liberty, was crowned the Big South Tournament Champions for the 16th time in 19 years. Their longest stay in the NCAA women’s tournament came in 2005 when the Flames advanced to the Sweet 16.

On Saturday morning, it will be two weeks exactly since UNC has played a game after a heart-breaking overtime loss to Louisville in the ACC Tournament semifinals. Coach Hatchell says she has been keeping her players fresh throughout the break with constant scrimmaging and up-tempo practices.

“We took off four days last week after we came back from the ACC Tournament and they went home and had Wednesday through Saturday off. But we practiced last night and today and it gives them a good break. They come back more fresh and excited after breaking up the season. It’s like that regular season, then the ACC’s are over and now it’s the NCAA Tournament. It’s a six game season and every game is so big and important.”

The winner of the Saturday showdown will advance to face the winner of the first-round game between No. 5 seed Ohio State and No. 12 seed James Madison Monday.

Click here to view the entire NCAA Women’s Tournament bracket.


Heels Tumble Out of Tourney in OT Loss

No. 15 North Carolina was knocked out of the ACC Women’s Tournament Saturday night by No. 10 Louisville in a 77-75 overtime loss. The Tar Heels had made it to the quarterfinals and looked to knock out at least one of the top-seeded teams from reaching the semifinals.

UNC freshman Jamie Cherry threw up a 40-foot nail-biter with less than two seconds left on clock to tie the game at 66 and send the game into overtime.

In Louisville’s first ever ACC Tournament game, the Cardinals quickly trimmed a 10-point lead UNC held over them with fewer than 10 minutes to play.

With 40 points scored in the paint compared to UNC’s 28, U of L knew just where to attack.

“We were letting Carolina do what they wanted to do, and we just talked about getting back to the basics,” Louisville Head Coach Jeff Walz said. “We tried to make sure we played scouting report defense and on the offensive end, we actually finally started to execute. We pushed the ball in transition and got some layups and also ran through some things.”

Louisville senior Sara Hammond led the Cardinals with 20 points as she scored eight times on nine shots at the free throw line – a key statistic for her team at the end of the game.

UNC’s Jessica Washington scored a team high 16 points and netted three 3-pointers. Junior N’Dea Bryant also played big for Carolina as she scored 13 points and snatched three steals.

Allisha Gray was evidently off beat on the court. She only scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds in 30 minutes on the floor.

Her time was cut short when she committed her fifth foul with 2 minutes left in regulation. Coach Sylvia Hatchell said losing her at the end of the game was reminiscent to the February 15th matchup between UNC and Louisville.

“The first time, she played really well, and this is probably the worst I’ve seen Allisha play,” Coach Hatchell said. “I kept thinking she was going to get going but she didn’t and they were targeting her a lot.”

Even amid her slump, Gray still made history that night as the 35th player in program history to obtain 1,000 points. With Gray only in her second year at Carolina, that mark shows very promising for the Heels.

And Carolina’s season is not over yet. The NCAA will determine the bracketology of the big dance in the coming weeks as the Tar Heels take on March Madness.



Tar Heels Take Down GT in First Round of ACC’s

Stephanie Mavunga led the Tar Heels to the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament Thursday night with a game-high 23 points over Georgia Tech in an 84-64 win in Greensboro. Carolina is a No. 6 seed in the tournament and is lifted to a 24-7 overall record.

Mavunga also finished the night with 16 rebounds and 8 blocks. She said she felt tonight was one of the best night’s to make a statement.

Stephanie Mavunga gets double-teamed often.

Stephanie Mavunga gets double-teamed often.

“I really had to step up big,” Mavunga said. “Especially after having such a bad game last game at Duke, I felt like I had let my team down and needed to step up tonight.”

Just before halftime, UNC thought it would take a break with a 13-point lead, until Tech guard Antonia Peresson shot an impressive half court shot at the buzzer to bring them behind the Heels 37-27.

Carolina went through a short scare at the beginning of the second half when Allisha Gray went down hard on the court with an apparent right ankle injury.

“During the game when Allisha got knocked down, I didn’t like that,” Mavunga said. “And seeing her like that made me furious, it ticked me off and actually motivated me.”

When Gray checked back in after a quick trip to the locker room, UNC found their sync and took over on the court in the final minutes – never letting Georgia Tech get back in within seven points.

Jamie Cherry played well at point in limited minutes.

Jamie Cherry played well at point in limited minutes.

Coming behind Mavunga in scoring was Gray with 14 points and three assists alongside Latifah Coleman with 10 points on 40 percent three-point shooting.

UNC shot 50 percent from the floor and scored 21 points off of the Yellow Jackets’ 18 turnovers.

Georgia Tech was led by Kaela (KAY-luh) Davis and Zaire (Z-eye-AIR) O’Neil with 14 points apiece while Aaliyah Whiteside added 13.

On Friday, UNC will meet Louisville as they make their ACC Tournament debut. The Tar Heels are hoping to redeem themselves from the 75-66 loss at Louisville in February.



WBB to Open ACC Tournament on Thursday at 8 p.m.

North Carolina is headed back to the ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament in the Greensboro Coliseum as a No. 6 seed. Although the seeding by no means favors the Tar Heels to win the title, Carolina holds two All-ACC First Team selections on its roster – sophomores Allisha Gray and Stephanie Mavunga.

Out of the four schools to be placed in the top seeds in the bracket, UNC only beat one of them this season. Gray led Carolina with 22 points to force an upset victory over No. 7 Florida State last month in Carmichael Arena.

“At this point in the year I think every team is a little beat up, and it is that time of year when all the ACC teams are so tough, especially on the road. You can get banged up but so much of it is mental, it’s just a mentality. That’s why I challenge the seniors because it’s their team and they’ve got to lead the way in tough situations like this.”

This is the second straight year UNC has been the 6 seed. The Tar Heels advanced to the semifinals in 2014 before a 66-61 loss to Duke.

In the final game of the regular season on Sunday, UNC faced their rival and envisioned ending the game by spoiling Duke’s senior day. However, they suffered a one-point loss in Cameron Indoor to complete the Blue Devils’ sweep.

It was then that head coach Sylvia Hatchell realized that her team would need to develop more heart to compensate for their disadvantages in height.

“Between now and the time we go to Greensboro we’re going to take boxing lessons,” Coach Hatchell said. “Because we’ve got to get tougher if we’re going to be able to battle inside and hold our own in there.”

Coach Hatchell has repeatedly made it a point to judge her team’s success not only by a higher number of points at the end of the game, but also a higher number of rebounds.

As ACC play deepened, UNC was often beaten on the glass as they depended on their speed for offensive opportunities. While Stephanie Mavunga stands at 6’3”, she is often listed as undersized compared to many frontcourt players on ACC program rosters. Mavunga still manages to lead her team in rebounds with 8.7 per game, which places her at eighth-best in the conference.

“We’re a fast break team so steals are great for us,” junior guard N’Dea Bryant said. “I feel like we finish well and that’s what Carolina basketball is about – getting steals and getting fast break points so it’s normal really, it’s what we’re here to do.”

On Thursday at 8 p.m, the first match for the Tar Heels is a game against the winner of the 11th seed Georgia Tech and 14th seed Clemson match-up.

After suffering their first conference loss to Pitt in early January, Carolina made a run at redemption by defeating Georgia Tech in Carmichael Arena, 96-81.

Also, in mid-January, sophomore guard Jessica Washington scored a career-high 20 points to defeat Clemson 78-56 on the road. Washington netted 4 three-pointers to give Carolina its third conference win.


UNC Ends Season with Loss in Cameron Indoor

North Carolina envisioned ending its season with a Duke senior day spoiler in Cameron Indoor and a chance to reclaim a win they lost in overtime in the last rivalry meeting. Although UNC almost made history by netting 14 threes against the Blue Devils, it was not enough to overcome Duke’s 81-80 win on Sunday afternoon.

UNC finished its regular season with a 23-7 record and heads into the ACC tournament with a 10-6 conference mark. Duke has finished with a 20-9 record and they are 11-5 in the ACC, gaining a four-seed in the tournament.

“Between now and the time we go to Greensboro, we’re going to take some boxing lessons,” UNC head coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “We’re going to get some gloves out and go at it to get a little tougher. We have got to get tougher if we’re going to be able to battle inside.”

Carolina had a solid chance to win the game early, but Duke used its height and strength on the inside to beat UNC in a game of runs.

Out of the halftime break, UNC played the worst eight minutes of basketball it has all season. Duke was able to outscore the Tar Heels 25 to 4 on its return from the locker room. Carolina hit a peak in turnovers, suffered from a four-minute scoring drought and was forced to bench Stephanie Mavunga and Brittany Rountree as they got in very deep foul trouble.

“Coming out in the second half, we just couldn’t get things going,” coach Hatchell said. “I kept thinking we were but they came out (strong) in the second half. Sometimes I’d almost rather be a point or two behind at half time, so that way we can come out with an edge at halftime instead of being ahead. They came out and came at us hard and heavy and physical and won that battle.”

However, North Carolina tied a program record high with 14 treys made – a career-night that was established quite recently in December of 2013. Carolina netted five from both Allisha Gray and Jessica Washington Washington and two apiece from seniors Latifah Coleman and Rountree.

“I would have hoped we had done a better job on the shooters honestly whether it’s #15 (Gray) or #11 (Rountree),” Duke Head Coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “But I think we made up for it in other places and I think that’s where shooting can be overrated.”

The offense was still missing a few key pieces. Stephanie Mavunga struggled after being double-teamed by Duke every minute she was on the floor, which is why she was unable to score a field goal until 4:37 remained in the game. Mavunga still managed to finish the game with 11 points.

In the final minute, UNC made numerous attempts to cover the ground and cut the margin it let extend early in the second half. With Duke committing 3 turnovers and UNC on an 8-0 run, Mavunga had a clean-up layup that set the score at 78-77 with 30.4 seconds left.

Duke’s Azura Stevens was fouled by UNC and made her freethrows, except for one that allowed Gray to push down to the end of the court for a last second shot attempt. It didn’t fall, and when Coleman made a Hail Mary pass to Gray again for a three, it was one-point too late.

“I don’t think they were more physical but I do think, like Coach Hatchell said, height was a problem,” Gray said. “We played physical too because we fought back from being down by double digits with four minutes left and we had a comeback to bring the game back down within two.”

Azura Stevens finished with a game high 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Blue Devils. Rebecca Greenwell added 19 shooting 60 percent from the three and Elizabeth Williams finished with 18 in her final game in Cameron Indoor.

Carolina will enter the ACC Tournament with the No. 6 seed and is set to face wither 11th seed Georgia Tech or 14th Clemson Thursday at 8 p.m. in the Greensboro Coliseum.



Mavunga Saves UNC With Last Second Shot

A buzzer-beater lay-up by sophomore Stephanie Mavunga carried the North Carolina women’s basketball team to a 72-70 win over Virginia on Thursday in their final game of the season in historic Carmichael Arena. With the win, No. 15 North Carolina now has a 23-6 overall record and a 10-5 standing in the ACC. The Cavaliers have dropped to 16-12 this season and have closed ACC play at with a 6-9 record.

After tip-off, UVA got ahead to a tremendous start and scored the first nine points of the game. Just when it looked like they would be dominating the night with their high three-point accuracy, Mavunga and junior guard N’Dea Bryant led an 8-0 run on the comeback charge for the Tar Heels. UVA had a 12-point first half advantage over UNC, but that was quickly snapped as Carolina went on a 15-2 run to close out the half with a 35-33 lead.

UVA was led by Faith Randolph who finished with a game-high 24 points on 4-5 shooting from behind the arc.
Carolina led by as many as 10 points after the midgame break until that lead was crushed by a late scoring showdown from Randolph, who led the Hoos in the fight back to a tie at 70 points with 22 seconds left.

However, for UNC’s offensive power, the second half was all Stephanie.

With only seven seconds to play, Allisha Gray attempted a lay-up from the left side of the bucket for the winning shot. When that missed and fell on the other side of the backboard, Mavunga was there for the put back and score. She sealed the win with 0.2 seconds on the clock.

“It’s one of the greatest feelings ever,” Mavunga said. “One thing I don’t like, I don’t like going into overtime. I like winning in regulation. That was the thing. We were all saying in the huddle that we’re going to win this thing in regulation and we’re not going into overtime.”

Mavunga finished with 23 points while shooting 10-15 from the field and eight rebounds. Gray snapped her 23-game streak scoring in double figures and had a tough shooting night as she only contributed nine points. Bryant and senior Brittany Rountree were there to pick up the slack offensively as the Bryant closed out with 13 points while the senior added 10 and six rebounds.

In typical Carolina fashion, the Tar Heels said one of their first farewells to playing seniors Rountree, Latifah Coleman and Danielle Butts with a high intensity fight to the finish.

Up ahead, a road rivalry rematch against Duke on Sunday at 3 p.m. Both teams are vying to finish the regular season with the fifth spot in ACC standings.



Carolina Crushes Demon Deacons 83-45

North Carolina might have grabbed its easiest win this season with an 83-45 victory over Wake Forest Thursday night in Carmichael Arena. Carolina is boosted to a 21-6 record and an 8-5 conference mark. The Demon Deacons have dropped to 10-18 overall with only one conference win.

It is pretty much impossible for a basketball team to win games when they collect almost as many turnovers as points. With a whopping 20.5 give-aways a game, Wake Forest leads the ACC in turnovers. Thursday night only boosted that average even more.

Wake Forest head coach Jen Hoover called turnovers an “Achilles Heel” for her young team, and UNC’s athleticism and trap defense only made it harder for the Demon Deacons to protect the ball.

“Unfortunately, with turnovers, they come in bunches,” Hoover said. “And once they start coming it’s hard to stop them. You saw me try to call a couple quick timeouts to try and slow things down a bit but we’ve got to continuously talk about why we’re making those turnovers and decision making. With a team like (North Carolina) the holes close up a lot faster because they are so athletic so we really talk about ball fakes and being decisive with our passes.”

By the time Wake Forest had 23 points at the end of the first half; they had already forfeited the ball 17 times and given UNC a solid 20-point lead. The Demon Deacons gave up the ball a total of 34 times that night, which led to 40 extra points for the Tar Heels.

But UNC knew how to make some noise with their own offense as well. In a balanced effort by the Tar Heels, five players scored in double digits while sophomore Stephanie Mavunga and senior Brittany Rountree added nine. The night’s leading scorer, Allisha Gray, had 16 points while playing only 15 minutes with a case of the flu. But it was safe to say Gray was not knocked off of her game.

“When she’s healthy and plays hard she can do anything she wants to do,” Coach Hatchell said with an assuring laugh.

For the Demon Deacons, their scoring came from the outside with guards Millesa Calicott and Amber Campbell who had 16 and 14, respectively. As for Wake Forest standout Dearica Hamby, the night was a frustrating one. Hamby, who Coach Hatchell referred to as a “certain first-round draft pick”, only put up seven points and 10 rebounds. This marked her first game of not scoring in double-digits since January of 2013.

Carolina’s junior guard N’Dea Bryant had the recipe for success in stifling Hamby’s game.

“I just tried to stay in front of her and just not let her body me up,” Bryant said. “Just move my feet a lot because she’s definitely bigger than me so I definitely just let her not get the ball which makes it easier for me because if she gets the ball then its tougher for me to stop her.”

Up next for UNC is a quick break from the icy air of Chapel Hill to sunny Florida to face Miami on Sunday afternoon at 3:00 p.m.



Gray Leads Victory Over FSU in Late Scoring Spree

In what many would call an upset victory, No. 17 North Carolina women’s basketball knocked down No. 7 Florida State Thursday night in Carmichael Arena, 71-63.

The Tar Heels have now clinched their twentieth win this season with only five losses. They are now 7-4 in the ACC while the Seminoles have dropped to 9-2 in the conference and 22-3 overall.

In a game of six ties and lead changes, a high-intensity battle broke out between the Seminoles and the Tar Heels. Neither team could manage a large lead for more than a few seconds, and the fast and up-tempo possessions proved both teams were fighting for the crown of the conference.

For North Carolina, junior Hillary Summers found herself in a rhythm and ended up with a career-high nine points and seven rebounds. Senior Brittany Rountree added 10 alongside sophomore Stephanie Mavunga, who finished with 11 points but was stifled under the basket by the likes of FSU’s big men.

Sophomore Ivey Slaughter posted a game-high 15 points and eight rebounds while only playing 18 minutes. Reigning ACC and ESPNW Player of the Week Adut Bulgak was held to an unusually low 9 points before fouling out with less than a minute remaining. Bulgak had 13 rebounds.

Florida State went on a 17-6 run to close the half with a seven-point lead at 34-27. But after the break, the game was all Allisha Gray. She scored 18 of her 22 points and her steal and acrobatic bucket with 53 seconds left sealed the win for Carolina. Her scoring and 14 rebounds set the tempo for UNC and shut out FSU’s chance of a late comeback.

“I think (the game was great), I have to credit Carolina,” FSU head coach Sue Semrau said. “They had a lot of fire; they had a lot of competitive spirit in them. Allisha Gray had a great game, but I like it for us. Although we can get a little complacent and tonight we had a little bit of confusion and it’s just not like us but again, credit to Carolina for taking advantage of it.”

In every game this season, Florida State has out-rebounded their opponent. And although they won again on the glass, UNC’s second half rally included grabbing eight more boards than FSU in the final 12 minutes of the game.

Next up for UNC is a road trip to Louisville Sunday.



UNC Cruises Past VA Tech 74-52

The North Carolina women’s basketball team desperately needed a win Sunday afternoon. Not just because they were coming off a very disappointing loss to Syracuse earlier in the week, but also because UNC lost an integral part of its school and legacy, legendary men’s basketball head coach Dean Smith.

Coach Smith’s passing affected the entire University and reached into the women’s basketball program, as head coach Sylvia Hatchell was closely mentored by Smith.

“When I took the job at North Carolina, I had Dean Smith’s old office. They had moved to the Smith Center and I moved into Dean Smith’s old office. And I was nine years old when he became the head coach at UNC. Everything I did as a coach – even when I was at Francis Marion – was like, ‘OK if the North Carolina men’s team is doing that, then I’m going to try to do that.’ But he’s the reason why I wanted to go coach at North Carolina.”

It is now safe to say the Hall of Fame women’s coach is another thing UNC has to thank Dean Smith for. And Hatchell repaid him in Blacksburg, Virginia with a blowout 74-52 victory over Virginia Tech to place the Tar Heels at 19-5 and 6-4 in the ACC. The Hokies remain at the bottom of the conference with a 1-10 record and now sit at 10-14 overall.

Carolina was led in scoring by Brittany Rountree with 15 points, but was assisted on the scoreboard by a balanced effort from her teammates. Allisha Gray scored 13, freshman Jamie Cherry, in her first career start, added 11, and both Stephanie Mavunga and Latifah Coleman finished with 10 points.

UNC biggest lead came in the second half when the Tar Heels were up by 22, after a 20-4 run quickly solidified a blowout game. Carolina also had a much-improved shooting day. Rountree’s four 3-pointers made way for UNC to finish 10-25 behind the arc.
For the Hokies, guard Samantha Hill scored 11 points and forward Taijah Campbell also added 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Carolina returns to Chapel Hill to host Florida State Thursday at 7 p.m. The Seminoles have only lost one conference game and are 22-2 this year.



No. 15 UNC Travels to No. 25 Syracuse Thursday

The ACC has developed into a powerhouse for basketball this season, and UNC women’s basketball is looking to beat their fifth ranked opponent with a hopeful win over No. 25 Syracuse Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Carrier Dome.

The Tar Heels are ranked No. 15 with an 18-4 record largely due to the ACC’s Player of the Week sophomore forward Stephanie Mavunga. This is Mavunga’s third conference top player honor this season, and she is currently averaging 17.4 points and 10 rebounds over her last 10 games. In last game’s win over Boston College, she scored 25 points and grabbed her 500th career rebound.

For the Orange, Thursday’s game makes the third match in a row against a top-25 ranked team, a schedule they haven’t seen since 2005. Syracuse also has a front court threat of its own in sophomore center Briana Day. A native of Raleigh, Day leads the ACC in blocks with 3 per game and ranks second in rebounds with 11.

Syracuse and Carolina will be meeting for the fifth time. The Tar Heels own a 3-1 advantage in the all-time series, but the Orange took the last meeting last season in Chapel Hill, N.C. with a 78-73 victory. UNC was then ranked No. 6 in the country, which marked the highest ranked opponent Syracuse had ever beaten on the road.

The game will broadcast on ESPN3.