Ruffin-Pratt, Rolle lead UNC past N.C. State, 68-58
Before every game, right before the players take the court, North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell gives senior Tierra Ruffin-Pratt a pep talk.
“You’re the best point guard in America,” Hatchell tells her. “Now go run the show.”
Ruffin-Pratt only started running the Tar Heels’ offense this year. Initially, she wasn’t crazy about the idea, and she still has more turnovers (125) than assists (122). But her improvement at the position has helped No. 16 UNC emerge as one of the top teams in the ACC.
Ruffin-Pratt matched a career high with 24 points Sunday and senior center Waltiea Rolle had 21 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks as the Tar Heels defeated N.C. State 68-58 at Carmichael Arena.
UNC (25-4, 13-3) turned 31 Wolfpack turnovers into 31 points and held N.C. State (13-15, 5-11) to one field goal in the final seven minutes to break open a one-point game.
By beating their rivals for the 23rd time in 27 games, the Tar Heels are guaranteed to be either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the ACC Tournament. They had been picked fifth in the conference’s preseason poll.
Ruffin-Pratt and Rolle are now fully healthy and have been a big part of UNC’s resurgence. Last season, Ruffin-Pratt didn’t play until Jan. 5 because of shoulder surgery and Rolle didn’t play until Dec. 29 after giving birth to her first child.
“I’m so proud of these two because they’ve been through a lot,” Hatchell said. “At this time last year I don’t know that they ever thought they’d be in the situation they are right now. They’re seniors and they carry us.”
Rolle’s free throws gave the Tar Heels the lead for good with 9:46 remaining, and the duo combined for 14 of UNC’s last 16 points.
The Tar Heels had been outrebounded 21-13 at halftime and trailed N.C. State at the break for the second time this season. But like in its four-point win Jan. 10 in Raleigh, UNC came back in the second half to improve to 8-4 when tied or behind at halftime.
“They probably got yelled at at halftime to get on the boards,” N.C. State coach Kellie Harper said.
Hatchell thought her players were tired after getting back at 3 a.m. Saturday morning following a late game at Virginia Tech, so she called off her full-court press in the first half. But the Tar Heels still were able to force turnovers in the half court, led by freshman Xylina McDaniel’s six steals. Ruffin-Pratt added three steals and guards Latifah Coleman, Danielle Butts and Megan Buckland all had two steals off the bench.
“They’re not going to make one pass easy,” Harper said. “We knew that was going to be the situation for 40 minutes. That’s what’s making them so successful. They’ve really bought in to defending, especially in the halfcourt.
“They’ve got athletic players that can jump out (and) switch screens, their post players are really guards, they move well, they don’t allow you to take advantage of mismatches when they do switch because of their ball pressure.”
N.C. State led 45-39 with 13 minutes remaining, but UNC used a 13-2 run to take the lead. Still, the Wolfpack only trailed by one with six minutes left when Ruffin-Pratt and Rolle took over.
Ruffin-Pratt found Rolle for a lay-up, Rolle converted a three-point play, and Ruffin-Pratt hit two mid-range jumpers to push the lead to eight.
NOTES – UNC wore bright pink uniforms as part of the Play 4Kay initiative, which raises awareness for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. … Hatchell celebrated the victory by dancing the shag with her husband Sammy at center court after the game. … N.C. State guard Myisha Goodwin-Coleman did not play, and Harper said that the junior has been suspended indefinitely. Goodwin-Coleman started the first 22 games and averages 8.2 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists.
At Carmichael Arena, Chapel Hill
No.16 NORTH CAROLINA 68, NC STATE 58
NC STATE (13-15, 5-11 ACC)
Marissa Kastanek 6-15 2-2 17; Len’Nique Brown 6-15 2-3 15; Krystal Barrett
4-9 2-6 10; Kody Burke 4-13 1-2 9; Markeisha Gatling 2-3 0-0 4; Kiana Evans
1-2 0-0 2; Ashley Eli 0-0 1-2 1; Breezy Williams 0-2 0-0 0; Lakeesa Daniel
0-1 0-0 0. Totals 23-60 8-15 58.
No. 16 NORTH CAROLINA (25-4, 13-3 ACC)
Ruffin-Pratt, Tierra 9-17 6-12 24; Rolle, Waltiea 7-14 7-9 21; McDaniel,
Xylina 6-16 3-3 15; Butts, Danielle 3-7 0-0 6; Gross, Krista 0-1 2-4 2;
Coleman, Latifah 0-3 0-2 0; Buckland, Megan 0-4 0-0 0; Rountree, Brittany
0-2 0-0 0. Totals 25-64 18-30 68.
NC State 33 25 58
North Carolina 32 36 68
3-point goals--NC State 4-16 (Marissa Kastanek 3-12; Len’Nique Brown 1-3;
Breezy Williams 0-1), North Carolina 0-9 (; McDaniel, Xylina 0-3;
Gross, Krista 0-1; Buckland, Megan 0-3; Rountree, Brittany 0-2). Fouled
out--NC State-Krystal Barrett; Markeisha Gatling, North
Carolina-None. Rebounds--NC State 44 (Kody Burke 11), North Carolina
39 (Rolle, Waltiea 11). Assists--NC State 10 (Len’Nique Brown 6),
North Carolina 12 (Ruffin-Pratt, Tierra 3; McDaniel, Xylina 3; Buckland,
Megan 3). Total fouls--NC State 27, North Carolina 17. Technical
fouls--NC State-None, North Carolina-None. A-4,840