ACC TOURNAMENT: No. 6 UNC women to meet No. 11 Wake
North Carolina swept both No. 10 Duke and No. 14 N.C. State and beat No. 5 South Carolina on a neutral court.
The Tar Heels also went just 4-4 in conference home games, including a loss to 14-15 Virginia Tech.
The wins mean that UNC (22-8, 10-6) enters the ACC Tournament with a No. 13 national ranking in the AP poll. But the losses mean than that the Tar Heels are only a No. 6 seed in their own conference and will face an incredibly difficult task if they hope to win their first ACC title since 2008.
UNC begins their tournament run today at the Greensboro Coliseum (8:30 p.m., Fox Sports Carolinas) against No. 11 Wake Forest, a 72-58 winner over No. 14 Pittsburgh in the opening round on Wednesday.
Getting a title might require beating eighth-ranked Maryland and three-time ACC player of the year Alyssa Thomas in the quarterfinals, knocking off Duke for a third time this season in the semifinals and then beating undefeated and second-ranked Notre Dame in the championship game.
“The conference is obviously very strong and with the new additions like Notre Dame it’s even stronger,” acting head coach Andrew Calder said. ‘We’re just trying to get better every day. We’ve been up-and-down and I take responsibility for the down parts. We’re talented and we feel like we have a chance to beat anyone anywhere. We’re looking forward to getting into the tournament and showcasing our skills.”
UNC is 57-27 all-time in the ACC Tournament and holds the conference records for most wins and best winning percentage. Their nine titles are the second-most in league history behind Maryland, which has 10.
But this will be the first tournament appearance for UNC’s vaunted freshmen class, which includes ACC rookie of the year Diamond DeShields, ACC all-rookie team selection Allisha Gray and center Stephanie Mavunga, who is third nationally among freshman with 12 double-doubles.
DeShields (17.7 points per game) set a school freshman record with 38 points at N.C. State and was the only freshman on the all-ACC first team, Gray (14.4 points) ranks fourth in the ACC in 3-point shooting at 41.9 percent and Mavunga (11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds) has the most rebounds of any ACC freshman.
“They’re playing very well together,” Calder said. “We never considered them freshmen as players and never gave them a bail out that we’re young. They came in with a lot of AAU and USA Basketball experience, playing at a high level.”
Mavunga said that she’s nervous but confident heading into her first ACC Tournament.
“We might have lost some games but we didn’t think we should have lost, but we know what we’re capable of,” Mavunga said. “So we’re going to continue to work, continue to fight, continue to grind it out.”
NOTE – Head coach Sylvia Hatchell is scheduled on Thursday to begin her final chemotherapy treatment for leukemia, which is now in remission. After that, Hatchell said that her doctors would determine if the Hall of Fame coach could return in time for the NCAA Tournament, which starts March 23.