by Mike Potter
CARMICHAEL AUDITORIUM/CHAPEL HILL UNC opens the ACC portion of its women's basketball season, and the No. 7 Tar Heels appear to be getting a challenge at home.
Tonight's visitor is No. 20 Georgia Tech, which comes in on an eight-game winning streak including victories in its last three road games.
UNC has historically dominated the series, but the two teams split a pair of home games last season and the Tech program is starting to gain a foothold in the upper echelon of the ACC.
Chay Shegog is back in the lineup for the Tar Heels after missing the previous two games with a concussion, while Tierra Ruffin-Pratt is out with a jammed shoulder and is day-to-day. But the Tar Heels dominate throughout in an 89-78 victory.
The Tar Heels trail for a minute early, but Italee Lucas proceeds to take over the game and has 23 points in the first half. Clicking on all cylinders including a 24-5 run, UNC leads 50-26 at the break.
UNC's biggest lead is 27, at 64-37 on Shegog's field goal with 15:09 left. The game is never closer than the final score after the 6:30 mark of the first half.
Lucas cools off in the second half, but finishes with 28 points to lead four Tar Heels in double figures. She'la White and Cetera DeGraffenreid, who started together in the backcourt with Lucas for just the second time this season, finish with 13 points apiece while Shegog adds 10. Laura Broomfield has 10 rebounds to go with eight points, while Lucas and DeGraffenreid each have eight assists.
Deja Foster, Sasha Goodlett and Alex Montgomery lead Tech with 15 points each, while Brigitte Ardossi adds a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds. Mo Bennett has 11 rebounds to go with nine points.
UNC shoots 51.7 percent from the floor to Tech's 42.5, but the Yellow Jackets win the rebound battle 48-34. The Tar Heels also commit 23 turnovers to 22 for the visitors.
But the home team wins it outside the arc and at the stripe. UNC is 7-for-14 from 3-point range while the Yellow Jackets are 4-for-20, and is 22-for-29 from the free-throw line to the visitors' 6-for-14.
They said it ...
UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell: "First of all, Georgia Tech is a really good team. We knew they were going to be really tough. Second half it was extremely physical. Our transition game was good. Italee was hot in the first half, and 'T' (DeGraffenreid) did a good job breaking the press. Second half, our defense - we weren't communicating and letting them have a lot of open shots, and of course they were knocking them down. We've got to do a lot better rebounding. ... It was a great game for us to have before we play at (No. 1) UConn Saturday. I don't think anybody's expecting us to beat them except maybe us."
Tech coach MaChelle Joseph: "I give Carolina a lot of credit. Obviously Italee Lucas was unbelievable in the first half, one of the best first halves of play I've ever seen a guard put on. I knew she could shoot the basketball, but I didn't realize she could shoot it as well as she did. It's unfortunate we didn't show up in the first half. I didn't think we played hard and I didn't think we played smart, and Carolina is the type of team that if you don't play hard and don't play smart they're going to exploit you."
Lucas: "I've been shooting pretty good. I guess I was just feeling it. ... It's not the first time I've had 28 or something like that. A lot of our offense, we pretty much know where we are and we can go through our plays without even calling anything, so that's a big help just knowing where each other are on the floor without having to say anything."
DeGraffenreid: "(The first-half run) was defense and a lot of people coming out making shots, and us playing really team basketball and us being focused and doing the right things. Italee was amazing in the first half. I was breaking presses and knowing where to throw the ball to every time. I was throwing the ball to 'It' and she was putting them in."
What does it all mean?
That the Tar Heels appear to beat quality ACC opponents after a lot of easy home victories in November and December. And that Georgia Tech doesn't quit even when the game appears to be over.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Lucas' four-point play to put the Tar Heels up 30-21 with 7:12 left in the first half.
UNC leads 51-12.
UNC: Won 8.
GT: Lost 1.
UNC at Connecticut, Saturday, 4 p.m.
Georgia Tech vs. Clemson, Monday, 7 p.m.