Even while suffering a 65-58 loss to the fifth-ranked Blue Devils (27-2, 17-1), the 15th-ranked Tar Heels (26-5, 14-4) left with their heads high and with a lot of positives to take from the game.
Seniors Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (16 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists), Krista Gross (10 points, 12 rebounds), and Waltiea Rolle (9 points, 6 rebounds) led a Tar Heels squad that worked hard during a closely-contested game that featured many turnovers, missed shots, and rebounds.
“I look at the stat sheet and I see all these categories where we beat them or are ahead of them,” Tar Heels head coach Sylvia Hatchell said afterwards.
“So, we accomplished several of our goals, which were to hold their three-point shots down, make them turn the ball over, and to out-rebound them. All these things I challenged the players on, we accomplished. I see a lot of good things here and we we’ll build off this and get ready for the ACC Tournament.”
Lack of finish
The Tar Heels’ offensive effort was not devoid of quantity of effort, but rather quality of finish.
North Carolina put up 74 shots but finished shooting 30 percent from the field compared to Duke’s 38 percent performance.
“We missed a lot of shots,” Ruffin-Pratt said.
“We got good looks and open shots. We just couldn’t finish them. They played a lot of zone, so those closed-in shots we usually get on the elbows, and stuff like that, weren’t really there because they sagged in so much. I think we did a good job passing it around the perimeter and getting’ it in there when we did.
North Carolina’s ability to cause Duke to turn the ball over 29 times during the game played a significant role in staying close with them and taking the lead, 27-26, at halftime.
However, the Tar Heels’ lack of shooting consistency denied them the opportunity to stay ahead of the Blue Devils and getting into foul trouble cost them considerably.
Duke freshman guard Alexis Jones finished with a career-high 22 points and went to the free throw line 12 times, missing only one shot from the charity stripe for the entire game.
Trailing 48-40 with 5:34 to play, Rolle fouled out and put North Carolina at a disadvantage off the defensive glass.
“It hurt us a lot, her not being out there for the last five minutes of the game,” Ruffin-Pratt said of losing Rolle.
Ready for postseason play
Both Ruffin-Pratt and her coach were clear that the losing to Duke wasn’t going to change of their focus for the upcoming conference postseason tournament.
“I think this was a good game for us, playing like this, going into the ACC Tournament,” Ruffin-Pratt said.
“We’re playing hard, we’re playing some of the best basketball we’ve played all season. It’s a great game to play in this atmosphere, and playing it against one of the top teams.”
According to Hatchell, her team is ready for the upcoming tournament that will take place at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C. starting on Thursday.
“We’re right where we want to be,” she said.
“We’ve got the whole week planned out – we’ve actually got every minute planned out until we play Friday night. We’re just going to do what’s worked for the other championships. These kids are excited, they’re playing well and they’re looking forward to having an opportunity to up there and play."