by Mike Potter
CARMICHAEL ARENA/CHAPEL HILL UNC hosts archrival N.C. State in the Tar Heels’ annual Play 4 Kay game, and there’s an odd visual effect as the contest starts.
The Tar Heels are unranked this week for the first time this season, and need to win this one both for a shot to get back in and also to begin nailing down a spot in the NCAA Tournament. (The first and second rounds will be here March 17 and 19.)
The Wolfpack’s next win would assure State a winning season and almost certainly a spot in the WNIT barring a run through the ACC Tournament.
UNC freshman guard Danielle Butts is out for her second straight game with a concussion.
The Tar Heels do what they need to do, holding off their rivals 68-59 and moving to within a game of the magic 20-win mark.
There are five lead changes and four ties early before the Tar Heels take the lead for good at 9-8 on Shannon Smith’s 3-pointer with 14:25 left in the half.
UNC leads 33-21 at halftime after outshooting the Wolfpack 46.7 to 20.6. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt leads with 13 points at the break.
The Tar Heels’ biggest lead is 18, on a Ruffin-Pratt layup that makes it 61-43 with 4:57 to go.
State doesn’t quit, as Kody Burke, Marissa Kastanek and Myisha Goodwin-Coleman hit back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 61-52 with 3:09 left. But the Wolfpack can’t get any closer.
Ruffin-Pratt finishes with a career-high 23 points and 11 rebounds for her first double-double of the season, while Rolle chips in 12 with five blocked shots.
Bonae Holston leads the Wolfpack with 15 points, followed by Krystal Barrett with 12 off the bench and Myisha Goodwin-Coleman with 11.
UNC shoots 46.3 percent to the Wolfpack’s 26.4. State wins the rebound battle 43-39 on the strength of 23 offensive boards, and commits 19 turnovers to the Tar Heels’ 24.
They said it …
UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell: “That was a big game for us, because N.C. State always plays so hard. Pratt’s shot is falling now, and she’s been in the gym shooting a lot. She has been taking more than 1,000 shots every week at least. I knew Waltiea could do everything she did today. It’s just a matter of getting her back into shape."
State coach Kellie Harper: “It doesn’t take a genius to pick up that stat sheet and figure out where that game was won and lost, our offense or their defense. Our field-goal percentage was too low to win games in the ACC. Part of it you’ve got to credit their defense and their length, and we didn’t work as hard as we needed to in the first half to get good shots. We were a little impatient.”
Ruffin-Pratt: “I just want to keep getting better and working on my shot. I need to continue to play good defense and continue to do anything that’s going to help my team. I’ve been missing a lot of easy shots, so I’ve been getting in the gym and shooting the same shots that I’ll be shooting in the game.”
Holston: “They’re tough on the front line. You have to work to box them out. We let them get the ball into too many easy spots. ”
What does it all mean?
That the Tar Heels stay on track for an NCAA bid. And that the Wolfpack really, really needs a win at Boston College Thursday night.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Ruffin-Pratt’s two free throws to make it 63-52 with 2:45 to go.
UNC: Won 2.
State: Lost 3.
State leads 51-43.
State at Boston College, Thursday, 7 p.m.
UNC at Maryland, Friday, 8:30 p.m.