In a bit of weekend news sure to make UNC fans everywhere smile, the Tar Heel women dumped sixth-ranked Duke 64-54 Sunday afternoon at Carmichael Auditorium to salvage at least some part of what has become yet another disappointing 2010 basketball season in Chapel Hill.
Carolina's women have had the misfortune to have a lot in common with the men's team over the past month or so. UNC had lost seven of eight games going into the Duke game and had recently dropped out of the polls for the first time since 2001. And like their blue-clad brethren, the Carolina women will finish below .500 in the ACC and will be playing in the first-round games at the ACC tournament for the first time.
Like the men, the women have faced key injuries (for the women, it is senior star Jessica Breland, who is fighting Hodgkin's lymphoma and will redshirt) and have had erratic point guard play. Their style of play has mirrored the men, as the women have been known for years as a running team with sometimes questionable defensive credentials, and just as Roy Williams has found out, Sylvia Hatchell has discovered that it's hard to win when you can't put the ball in the basket.
They have lost close games (like a double overtime loss at Virginia) and they have been blown out (like a nearly 30-point loss to Duke the first time out), and have been awful away from Chapel Hill in ACC play, going only 2-5.
But possibly the most telling comparison to the men's team came in the game story in the News & Observer after the Tar Heels dropped a 74-63 decision to NC State last weekend:
That confidence translated into a 15-0 State run midway through the second half that swung the momentum of the game and eventually derailed the Heels. It was a State run staked on precise shooting - back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers by Marissa Kastanek and Emili Tasler - and rugged rebounding.
In the end, the Heels’ inability to defend State - a team that shot 47.3 percent from the field - resulted in its sixth loss in seven games.
Winning its third consecutive game, State confounded the Heels, who held a 50-42 lead with 11 minutes remaining. Pack players were physical and outworked their opponents on the glass, securing a 44-42 rebounding edge.
Poor shooting didn’t help the Heels as they shot 35.1 percent from the field (26-for-74). They missed wide open layups and uncontested jump shots.
While they played hard, there was no salve for what has ailed the Heels during conference play.
“It’s like a bad dream,” North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “We’ve been practicing really hard. I think we’ve had some good practices. ... But it seems like we get out there and we have break downs. ... But you know what, we’re going to keep on kicking until we break that door down and get things rolling again.”
UNC players have run the emotional gamut as they struggle to figure out their problems. On Sunday, players seemed more perplexed than frustrated by their current predicament.
Several wondered aloud why teammates would relax when they pulled ahead by eight in the second half and allowed the Pack to rally.
“There’s no excuse as to why we shouldn’t have won that game,” said UNC junior Cetera DeGraffenreid, who scored a game-high 22 points. “You can’t have frustration when you know you should have played harder. ... Before there was frustration as to why aren’t we playing hard. We came out and played hard in the Wake Forest game, Virginia game. There’s no excuse as to why we shouldn’t be doing it now.”
Wow. Any of that sound familiar? Hall of Fame coach, young team (losing Breland leaves UNC with only two scholarship seniors), ACC losing streaks, record streaks broken, big runs by opponents, poor shooting, other teams nailing threes, questioning heart and focus, breakdowns on both ends of the floor, on and on and on...
But beating Duke in anything is always a plus - maybe the men can emulate the women next weekend.