by Mike Potter
CARMICHAEL ARENA/CHAPEL HILL One of the ACC’s best rivalries gets played out tonight in women’s basketball as N.C. State visits No. 11 UNC.
The Tar Heels (15-1) should be very solid favorites, but that was also the case last year when State scored a shocking 11-point upset.
UNC will have its biggest home crowd so far this season including a couple of hundred boisterous Wolfpack fans, but the refurbished arena is nowhere near sold out.
Chancellor Holden Thorp rocks the keyboard as UNC’s director for recruitment and multicultural programs Terri Houston sings a soulful National Anthem and we’re ready to go.
The Tar Heels have to get a big lead and hold on, escaping a long Wolfpack comeback and winning 83-76.
It’s obvious from the beginning that the Wolfpack will put up a fight, taking a 7-0 lead on a 3-pointer from Breezy Williams with 18:40 left in the half.
But the Tar Heels respond with the next 10 points, going up 10-7 at 14:59 on a left-handed hook from Chay Shegog.
State’s Marissa Kastanek, already sporting a shiner on her left eye from Monday’s game at Wake Forest, is inadvertently decked by the Tar Heels’ Laura Broomfield at the 13:23 mark, and it doesn’t seem to get friendlier.
Williams and the Tar Heels’ Jessica Breland get into an altercation with 43 seconds left in the half that leads to technicals on both.
The Tar Heels steadily build the lead, holding a 42-26 advantage at the break after out-shooting the Wolfpack 45.5 percent to 29.0 and outrebounding State 23-17.
UNC looks ready to deal the visitors a severe embarrassment early in the second half, stretching the lead to as much as 62-38 on Italee Lucas’ jumper from Breland with 13:08 showing.
But the Wolfpack doesn’t quit.
Led by Kastanek with 22 of her career-high 30 points coming after the break, the Wolfpack slices the lead to five, at 81-76 on Kastanek’s last 3-pointer, before Breland finishes it with a pair of three throws with three seconds left.
Lucas paces the Tar Heels with 19 points, followed by Shegog with 13, Cetera DeGraffenreid 11 and Breland 10.
Bonae Holston, who fouls out with 5:44 to go, is the only other State player in double figures with 11 points.
UNC shoots 44.4 percent to 31.9 for State, and wins the rebound battle 47-40. But the Tar Heels commit 22 turnovers to the Wolfpack’s 15.
There are a whopping 54 fouls called, 30 against State which also has Kody Burke and Brittany Strachan hit the bench early. Shegog fouls out for UNC.
They said it …
UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell: “Two different halves. In the first half we did a lot of good things and were up by 24 points. The second half was not good; actually the whole game was pretty much a foul-fest. Whenever Carolina and State play it’s like that. But give State a lot of credit. They hung in there and didn’t quit. They kept coming back at us. When you shoot the basketball a lot of great things happen for you, and Marissa, she is a great, great shooter. She puts that team on her back and carries them. She is a tremendous leader and just does a great job. I’m happy with the win, but I’m not happy we lost our focus in the second half.”
N.C. State coach Kellie Harper: “I’m disappointed that we couldn’t find a way to win the game. I’m extremely proud of our players’ fight and toughness. This was a fun game. That looked like a rivalry game, and that’s the kind of atmosphere that you want to play in. With about 15 minutes to go, I was looking at the clock thinking we’d need to chip away a little at a time, a little at a time. And it never crossed my mind in the second half that our kids were going to quit. I knew we were going to make another run. Obviously when Marissa got hot, we started getting some stops at the same time and gave ourselves a chance.”
Breland: “They played really good defense. Maybe I was trying too hard. I had a great practice the other day, shooting wise, and I feel like I’ve been shooting well. I’ve been shooting on the gun and it’s been going well. We lost our momentum and struggled a little bit when they started knocking down 3s. We have (Kastanek) momentum and got their crowd into it, and we weren’t knocking down shots when we were open.”
Kastanek: “The thing that was going through my mind was how the men’s Carolina team came back last night and beat Virginia Tech after being down 20 points. Amber (White) in the locker room said ‘It’s a game of runs.’ It was clear they made their run (in the first half) and now it’s our turn. I just never quit; that’s not something I’ve ever done. The team, like in the locker room was, ‘We still have a chance. There’s 20 more minutes.’”
What does it all mean?
That the Tar Heels are just that good right now, while the Wolfpack may have to scratch and claw a lot to finish with a winning record.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
DeGraffenreid’s layup under the hoop from Breland at make it 30-22 at 5:09 of the first.
NCSU leads 50-41.
UNC: Won 2.
NCSU: Lost 1.
UNC vs. Connecticut, Monday, 7 p.m.
NCSU at Boston College, Thursday, 7 p.m.