by Mike Potter
GREENSBORO COLISEUM UNC has become a pretty regular fixture in the semifinals of the ACC Women’s Tournament.
Not so for Miami, which is here for the first time.
Duke alumnus Katie Meier’s club (27-3) finished last in the conference last season but, after finishing second in the WNIT, has made a massive turnaround and finished second in the league to the Blue Devils on a tiebreaker.
UNC (27-3) finished sixth in the conference, but has won twice in the tournament including an impressive victory over Florida State in the quarterfinals.
Both teams are locks for an NCAA Tournament bid.
The Tar Heels, who will of course have a partisan crowd behind them, lost to Miami 78-66 at Carmichael Arena on Feb. 13 in one of the bigger wins in the Hurricanes’ history.
Today the Tar Heels get some major revenge, throttling the Hurricanes 83-57 to get yet another finals meeting with Duke.
UNC takes the advantage after about 10 minutes and keeps the working margin going the rest of the way.
The Tar Heels lead 43-29 at halftime behind 16 points from Jessica Breland. Riquna Williams’ 12 points lead Miami.
UNC shoots 48.7 percent in the first half to Miami’s 31.4, leads the rebound battle 26-19 and commits nine turnovers to the Hurricanes’ 12.
Miami’s closest approach in the second half is 11 points, on Riquna Williams, layup to make it 52-41 with 13:43 remaining.
Jessica Breland leads the Tar Heels with a season-high 28 points and 10 rebounds, followed by Krista Gross and Cetera DeGraffenreid with 14 points each and Italee Lucas 12.
Williams leads Miami with 21, followed by Shenise Johnson’s 19 points and 14 rebounds and Morgan Stroman’s 10 points.
The Tar Heels shoot 46.9 percent to Miami’s 30.8, win the rebound battle 47-35 and commit 15 turnovers to the Hurricanes’ 19.
They said it …
UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell: “We’re excited about playing for another ACC championship. Our kids fought hard today. We had good balance, and Jessica Breland was just unreal. And we’re going to get rested up and come out and play as hard as we can. … I thought Duke looked great today. They shot the ball just unbelievable. We played them last Sunday and it was a great game. It should be a great championship game.”
Miami coach Katie Meier: “I want to talk about a really special, awesome basketball team, the North Carolina Tar Heels. They dismantled us. They did it very maturely, they did it very athletically, they did it very physically and they did it with finesse as well. And we’ve got a lot that we can fix in that game. There’s a lot wrong with Miami. And believe me, we will be very raw and very direct when we fix that together as a team.”
Breland: “This is definitely what we’ve been waiting for. I’m just so proud of my teammates and how we fought through everything. The last couple of weeks hadn’t been too good. We lost quite a (number) of games that we didn’t want to lose. But we’re playing together and having faith in each other and not getting frustrated with each other and playing hard.”
DeGraffenreid: “We don’t like (Duke). They beat us last time. So I guess, you know, we have a bad taste in our mouth from that.”
Gross: “It’s Carolina-Duke. Even if you didn’t originally hate Duke, as soon as you put on this jersey you have to. It’s just something that comes to you. So I think, after beating them and losing to them there, it’s like we want to beat them even more now. Especially in that championship game, it would be the sweetest revenge.”
What does it all mean?
One more Battle of the Blues, which is what most people were expecting when the season started. And Miami gets one more day of rest before collecting a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Breland’s jumper from Lucas to make it 72-57 with 5:52 left.
UNC leads 10-4.
UNC: Won 3.
Miami: Lost 1.
UNC vs. Duke, Sunday, 1 p.m.
Miami in NCAA Tournament.