by Mike Potter
The No. 23 Tar Heels (16-5, 6-2 ACC) come into tonight’s televised game with Virginia (16-7, 4-5) looking to establish themselves more solidly in the ACC’s upper third with a first-round bye in next month’s tournament.
It won’t likely be a cakewalk, as the Tar Heels won the teams’ first meeting 78-73 in double overtime Jan. 5 in Charlottesville.
Adding spice to the cauldron is that Virginia’s first-season coach Joanne Boyle is a former long-time assistant at her alma mater Duke. The Cavaliers, who are in the Triangle for the weekend and will be at N.C. State on Sunday, are likely on a crowded NCAA bubble.
The Tar Heels have to fight off a spirited comeback before securing the season sweep, coming away with a 64-56 decision for their fifth straight victory.
UNC leads 35-24 at halftime behind 50 percent shooting and eight points from Chay Shegog. Ariana Moorer has 13 at the break for the Cavaliers, who shoot 27.3 for the period.
Virginia chips away in the second half, tying it at 52 and 54 before Tierra Ruffin-Pratt’s three-point play with 1:32 left puts UNC ahead for good.
Candace Wood scores the game’s final seven points.
Shegog finishes with 20 points and Wood 14.
Ariana Moorer leads Virginia with 21 points while Lexie Gerson chips in 14 and Ataira Franklin 11.
The Tar Heels shoot 47.2 percent from the floor to the Cavaliers’ 32.2, but the rebound battle finishes at 35 apiece and UNC commits 22 turnovers to the visitors’ 21.
They said it …
UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell: “We’ve been working a lot on our shooting. We have outside practice and come in here and shoot. I think it’s really helped. Tonight came down to determination. We were determined to get it done and did what we had to do.”
Virginia coach Joanne Boyle: “We started playing harder (in the second half) and started believing we belonged in the game. We played more aggressively. But we didn’t show up to play in the first half. We played so tentative. I don’t know if it was scared, but we’ve got to be able to calm down and make layups and take pressure off ourselves. When we got to the second half we had some fight in us.”
Shegog: “We’ve been working a lot on our shooting. We have outside practice and come in here and shoot. I think it’s really helped. Tonight came down to determination. We were determined to get it done and did what we had to do.”
Wood: “It feels good to be a bigger part of this. “Missing out my first two years I never thought I’d see this opportunity. It’s been a great road and hopefully I’ll keep improving.”
What does it all mean?
That the Tar Heels have once again saved their spot in the Top 25, while Virginia has some work to do to nail down an NCAA spot.
UNC: Won 5.
Virginia: Lost 1.
UNC leads 47-32.
Virginia at N.C. State, Sunday, 2 p.m.
UNC at Duke, Monday, 7 p.m.