UNC women to open NCAAs today without Hatchell
The No. 4 seed Tar Heels have some decided advantages against UT Martin in their NCAA Tournament first round opener — size, home court and national freshman of the year Diamond Deshields.
A fourth edge the Tar Heels anticipated was the return of veteran coach Sylvia Hatchell today. Hatchell, who just completed a final round of cancer treatment, has missed the entire season and had hoped to return today, but that’s been pushed back. No date has been announced for her return.
UNC might need all the advantages they do have at 3 p.m. in Carmichael Arena today (ESPN) when they meet the No. 13 seed Skyhawks, the Ohio Valley Conference champion.
UT Martin is No. 3 in the country in scoring and is making its fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
“Size is an advantage when you’re athletic and big. UT Martin may not be as big as us, but they are very skilled, and sometimes skill beats that size,” said UNC associate head coach Andrew Calder, whose Tar Heels are ranked 12th in the AP poll, 13th in the Coaches’ poll, and making the school’s 25th appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Calder has coached the team in Hatchell’s absence.
“UT Martin is very talented and extremely well coached,” Calder said. “They’re going to play with great intensity and high basketball IQ. They have good players … and they can cause some problems with their press. It’s probably the best press that we face this year.
“It’s going to be a very competitive game,” he added. “It should be an up-and-down-the-court game.”
Deshields, the 6-1 freshman guard who led the 24-9 Tar Heels with 577 total points and 18 per game, is confident heading into the NCAA tournament opener.
“They’ve put up some big numbers, but they haven’t gone up against our defense yet. I’m not really worried about it honestly,” Deshields said. “I know they’ve got some offensive scorers, and I think it will be exciting to have that challenge for our defense. And I think we need a challenge like that, especially for our first game to get us going,” Deshields said.
At 84.6 points per game, the 24-7 Skyhawks trail only Oregon (93.5) and Notre Dame (86.6) in team scoring. UNC is ranked 15th nationally at 80.7.
Heather Butler, UT Martin’s 5-5 senior guard, is the ninth-leading scorer in the nation with 735 total points and 23.7 per game, having scored in double figures every game of her career. She is No. 18 on the NCAA all-time scoring list with 2,846 points.
Jasmine Newsome, a 5-6 senior guard, is ranked 50th in the country this year with 19.4 points per game. Newsome ranks 28th in the country with 5.8 assists, and 16th in the nation in steals with nearly three per game.
Butler and Newsome are 1-2, respectively, on the Ohio Valley Conference all-time scoring list.
Ashia Jones, a 6-1 freshman forward, averages 12.9 points per game and is UT Martin’s muscle under the glass, leading the team with an average 6.2 rebounds per game.
Along with DeShields, the Tar Heels get potent offense from 6-0 freshman guard Allisha Gray at 14.3 points per game, 6-2 sophomore forward Xylina McDaniel with 11.8 points per game, and 6-3 freshman forward Stephanie Mavunga with 11 points per game.
Mavunga has a team-leading 8.4 rebounds, and her 2.5 blocks per game ranks 25th nationally.
“Being a national champion is one of the goals we set,” DeShields said. “I think your focus comes from knowing you’re not there yet, but feeling like you’re so close. Staying focused is a thing that comes with maturity and discipline, and you’ve just got to be able to lean on one another when you start to lose focus.”
“The freshmen are actually pretty calm,” McDaniel said. “Tomorrow I’ll probably just tell them it’s just another game.”
McDaniel believes UNC’s size, and Mavunga underneath the basket, will be deciding factors.
“With Stephanie in the paint, she’s unstoppable. And I’m a pretty big person, too, whether it’s out around the three or in the paint,” McDaniel said.
“And then we’ve got big guards, 6-2 against 5-5, 5-6. Unstoppable. They might press us, but we have (5-9 junior guard) Latifah (Coleman), and she just loves breaking and driving through everybody’s press, so they’ll probably come out of that soon,” McDaniel said.
“Pretty much every game we’re the smallest players on the court,” UT Martin’s Butler said.
“It doesn’t even phase me and my teammates,” she said. “It’s kind of more of a challenge.”
“We have to control the game. If we play their style, I don’t think we have a good chance of winning,” Newsome said. “We’re an outside shooting team. We’re going to try to get the ball in the paint, shoot 3’s.”
“This is not a good matchup because Carolina and us play the same way,” Skyhawks fifth-year head coach Kevin McMillan said. “And they average 80 plus points a game, and they’re doing it with 6-2 and 6-3 All-Americans, and we’re doing it with converted cheerleaders, I guess, is what I call Butler all the time.”
But Butler and Newsome “are two of the most competitive players I’ve ever been around,” McMillan said. “Jasmine was an honorable mention All-American and I think they’re both mid-major All-Americans.”
They like the challenge of the underdog role and “won’t back down,” McMillan said. “The other three will probably be pretty nervous.”
NOTES — Hatchell visited the Tar Heels at their hotel on Saturday and gave a pep talk.
“She pretty much was talking to us about how she wished she could be there with us on the bench,” McDaniel said. “She talked about how we’re starting a new season, and it’s a six-game season, and if you win six games you win a national championshi. She was pretty much just saying how everybody needs to play their role, everybody needs to play together.”
Calder addressed the Hatchell situation: “She did speak with the team today. She’s a little bit down right now, working her way back up from her last treatment which, we thank the good Lord for that this, is her last treatment.
“But after that treatment you have a down cycle and you have to work your way back up. So she’s on that down cycle right now, working her way back up. But she will attend the game tomorrow. We do not know when she will return to the bench,” Calder said.