Tar Heel doubters beware: These women mean business
Really, it’s fine — keep on doubting, North Carolina senior Krista Gross offered Thursday to skeptics who aren’t convinced that these Tar Heels are what UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell is accustomed to working with during the NCAA Tournament.
It’s not like there was an overwhelming expectation that the Tar Heels even would slip on dancing shoes, Gross said.
“We were supposed to be, what, fourth in the ACC, fifth in the ACC, and we came out second,” Gross said. “(We) get a No. 3 seed in the (NCAA) Tournament. We really like our bracket, so (we’re) just really excited to prove everybody wrong.”
UNC (28-6) on Sunday will be in the opening round of the Big Dance against an Albany team that was undefeated in the American East Conference and won its league tournament for the second year in a row.
“Well, they’re very fundamental. Lots of experience,” Hatchell said. “They’ve got shooters, play a two-three zone, used to winning.”
But with all due respect to the Great Danes (27-3, 16-0), the Tar Heels know what they’re doing out there on the floor, too, Gross said.
“We were ranked low because we were so young,” Gross said. “We only have three seniors, and everybody else is a sophomore or freshman. So I knew that they weren’t going to expect much from us, which was really just fuel for fire.
“We’ve got a 3 seed, so I think we earned a little bit of respect,” Gross said. “But I still think people have some doubt, which is better for us, really.”
UNC last season was not in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001. That made the Heels hungry, Hatchell said.
“Denied last year, so I think they’re even more motivated this year,” Hatchell said. “This is a whole, whole different mentality, a whole different team.”
This version of the Tar Heels won a bunch of close games, and the leadership on the squad has been solid, Hatchell explained.
“We want to make a good showing and play well and maybe surprise some folks,” Hatchell said. “We scout other teams, but we try to make them scout us more than we have to scout them.
“In other words, we’re going to play fast-break basketball, be very aggressive, press, trap, be relentless on the boards, an up-tempo game.”
Albany plays a lot of zone defense, so the Tar Heels need to take advantage of any gaps in the coverage and knock down open looks, Gross said.
Some of those Great Danes are big, UNC senior guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt said. And the Tar Heels need to be mindful about not fouling Albany’s 3-point shooters while avoiding getting beat off the dribble, she said.
Every possession will matter when the ball gets tipped on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the University of Delaware, Gross said. The senior small forward has been making that clear to the younger Tar Heels.
“This is it. You can either have a one-game season or you can have a six-game season,” Gross said. “It comes completely down to what we decide to do. Just letting them know the importance of the game and every game and every possession in every game, but just not to overemphasize it to make them nervous.”
“Can’t look ahead, because if you don’t win that first game, you can’t move on to the second,” Ruffin-Pratt said.
“Every possession matters. One point here and there matters,” Gross said. “Every hustle play matters.”
“You don’t leave anything out there,” Hatchell said. “You give it all you’ve got, because there is no tomorrow.”
“What’s the point of saving your energy if we don’t make it to that second game?” Gross said.
Both Gross and Ruffin-Pratt said there are no butterflies fluttering in their tummies, just genuine excitement to be dancing again.
“For the seniors, we’ve been here before,” Gross said.
Just not last year.
NOTES — UNC guard Latifah Coleman continues to be bothered by leg issues and will play on an as-needed basis the way she did during the ACC Tournament, Hatchell said.