by Mike Potter
CARMICHAEL ARENA/CHAPEL HILL UNC returns to action following its nine-day Christmas break, looking to stay on the winning track against a very familiar opponent.
It’s the schools’ 14th meeting including four in the previous four years all in Chapel Hill, and the Buccaneers have never pulled off the upset.
The Tar Heels’ regulars are all healthy after some challenges earlier in the month, and Erika Johnson — the 6-1 transfer wing from California — is making her first home start.
Things proceed pretty much as expected, as the Tar Heels roll to an 85-44 romp.
UNC takes the lead for good at 13-11 on a pair of Tierra Ruffin-Pratt free throws at 12:18.
The Tar Heels lead 41-25 at halftime behind 10 from Ruffin-Pratt. UNC shoots 34.3 percent in the first half to the Bucs’ 30.6, but is outrebounded 29-19. ETSU commits 23 turnovers before the break to the Tar Heels’ nine.
UNC’s biggest lead is 84-42, on Whitney Adams’ layup from Danielle Butts with 1:33 to go.
The Tar Heels shoot 43.3 percent to the Bucs’ 27.7, but ETSU wins the rebounding battle 47-39. UNC commits 15 turnovers to the Bucs’ 36.
Ruffin-Pratt leads the Tar Heels with 18 points and a career best nine assists, followed by Xylina McDaniel with 11 points.
Three players — Serena Clark, Brianna McQueen and Cara Bowling — each score nine for the visitors.
They said it:
UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell: “We were getting great shots in the first half. We just had to focus and finish and put those shots in. We didn’t get the job done in rebounding, but in the second half we got our transition game going better. I like this group. We have a great bunch of kids.”
ETSU coach Karen Kemp: “I’ve been coaching for a long time, and I know you don’t get into the Top 25 because you’re a mediocre team. We knew that coming in. We were hoping to keep it respectable, and in the first half other than turning the ball over. In the second half their size, their strength and their speed took over.”
Ruffin-Pratt: “It’s always a big game for me. We had five days off before coming back Wednesday. Practice was pretty tough yesterday, but today wasn’t too bad. We’ve still got some work to do. Our defense is clicking, but we still have some work to do on the boards.”
What does it all mean?
That the Tar Heels are looking pretty solid heading into their ACC opener.
Stars of the game
3. Megan Buckland.
Play of the game
Antionette Bannister’s layup from Ruffin-Pratt to make it 37-23 with 1:33 left in the first half.
UNC: Won 5.
ETSU: Lost 3.
UNC leads 14-0.
UNC at Clemson, Sunday, 2 p.m.
ETSU at USC-Upstate, Wednesday, 5 p.m.