The Carolina women’s basketball team went searching for redemption on Sunday against Colorado after losing their season opener to Hampton two days prior. They found it, although it didn’t come easy for them.
The game was a tale of two halves, with Colorado storming out to as much as an 18-point lead in the second period. This sustained run was ushered in by Colorado head coach JR Payne’s decision to switch from man defense to a 2-3 zone after the Heels got up by four early.
The zone defense stifled Carolina, forcing the Heels to turn the ball over 13 times and shoot 22 percent from three. On the other side of the ball, Colorado only shot 38 percent from the field but was getting second-chance opportunities because of their excellent offensive rebounding. The Buffaloes had 29 total first half rebounds, compared to Carolina’s 19.
Going into the second half down by 15, Tar Heels fans probably weren’t expecting to see anything spectacular for the rest of the game. However, it became clear early on that Carolina had found a new swagger.
Here’s what Tar Heels’ head coach Sylvia Hatchell had to say about her halftime speech to the team: “It was more about rebounding and then just challenging them to have the heart and passion to compete harder and just correct a few things. The biggest thing was the rebounding. I told them at halftime if you take away all that offensive rebounding, the score is 32-29.”
The Heels came marching out like a team on a mission, cutting the lead down to as little as two in the third period. This run was due to hard-fought rebounding and a burst of energy from veteran guards Jamie Cherry and Paris Kea, who had 9 and 7 points respectively in the quarter.
The fourth period was a battle, where every possession was precious and leads swapped back and forth. The biggest moment of the quarter, and possibly the game, was the steal by redshirt freshman Jocelyn Jones that led to a Cherry three-pointer, to take the lead with 40 seconds left.
Hard work from younger players like Jones was key for Carolina, especially when rebounds and steals were necessary to pulling the Heels back in the game. Jones and sophomore Taylor Koenen each had double-doubles in points and rebounds. Also, Jaelynn Murray had seven rebounds and made a huge play on a held ball late to keep possession with the Heels.
Colorado would force overtime with a layup to tie it with just seconds left, but the extra five minutes was all North Carolina. The Heels got up early in the period and kept their foot on the gas, forcing four Colorado turnovers.
With 12 seconds left and her team up by five, Cherry sunk her last two free throws to seal the game - the cherry on top of what may be the start of a really fun season.
The Tar Heels return to action against Radford Thursday night at 6 p.m. at Carmichael Arena.
Photos by Caleb Jones