UNC's women's basketball looked to have a tough road ahead even before Sylvia Hatchell's leukemia diagnosis. Three starters graduated from last year's 29-7 squad, including All-ACC point guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt. In Hatchell's absence, Andrew Cadler was left with a team that had only four front court players on the roster, none of them upperclassmen. He would start two freshman, including at the point, and be relying on a very young team to face a very tough early-season test.
Of course, these were no ordinary freshmen. Hatchell brought in the nation's top recruiting class, including Diamond DeShields, point guard and Miss Georgia Basketball, and Stephanie Mavunga, center and Miss Indiana Basketball. The freshman class dominated the season opener against Air Force, scoring 52 of the team's 87 points in a rout. Tennessee is a bit of a different story. Ranked fourth in the country and coming off an Elite Eight finish last season, the Vols are a young team but more accomplished than the Tar Heels; the game, broadcast on ESPN2, was UNC's high-profile chance to make a statement in the non conference season.
The young team did a lot of things well against a tough opponent. Ball movement was excellent against a strong defense, and the Heels swarmed Tennessee on the other end of the floor, forcing 24 turnovers. The teams played at a pace that would tire a Roy Williams team, with 85 possessions. Carolina had almost all the parts in place to pull off the upset.
They just couldn't make any shots.
The Tar Heels were a dismal 30.9% from the field. The team started the second half with a six-and-a-half minute stretch where they didn't make a shot from the field. Layups clanked off rims and three-pointers missed their mark. The offensive rebounding was strong, especially coming against a tall Vol squad, but the second, third, and in one particularly horrid possession fourth attempts wouldn't fall. And while the defense did what they could, holding Tennessee to just over 40% shooting, it wasn't enough. The Vols had a 14-point lead twelve minutes into the game, and UNC would never make it closer than four. A twelve-point halftime lead proved to be insurmountable, and Carolina's record in the series would fall to 3-16.
Freshman Allisha Gray led the Heels with 15 points and 11 reboundscoming off the bench while both DeShields was limited to 8 on poor shooting. Tennessee's point guard Ariel Massengale led all scorers with a career-high 20 points. Mavunga and Xylina McDaniel both had double-doubles for UNC, as the former led all rebounders with 12 boards. The Heels travel to California on Sunday to meet UCLA.