After Hatchell became the ACC’s all-time wins leader with a victory against UNC Greensboro on Dec. 14, the North Carolina head coach said: “I want to win more championships for these kids. I think we have the makings of that.”
Since then, in addition to earning wins against Rice and Howard, the Tar Heels couldn’t hold on to a late lead against Auburn, erased a 19-point deficit down to two at No. 3 Louisville but ultimately came up short in an attempt at earning the program’s most significant win in years, and against the Seminoles saw a quality win methodically disappear at the opposing free-throw line.
“People have got to understand – everybody – that this team is a really good team,” Hatchell said. “It’s not the team that went through this NCAA stuff the last couple of years. I’ve got to do something to get the respect back that this team deserves; that really concerns me more than anything else.”
UNC jumped out to an early 8-3 lead, with all points coming from Watts. But outside of that bright start, the Tar Heels’ first half was lethargic. Offensively, the Seminoles beat the Tar Heels off the dribble on offense and were content to let the Tar Heels shoot outside shots (UNC made 3 of 13 3-pointers before halftime).
Outside of Watts’ good beginning and seven straight points from Shayla Bennett, nothing came easy for UNC before the break.
The second half was a different story. With its zone defense working on one end of the court, UNC found more success offensively at the other end of the floor. Bailey scored 10 of her 16 points in the second half, and Kea, thanks to her mid-range game, went for a team-high 17, only four of which came before halftime.
With Watts and Bennett keeping UNC in the game during the first half and Bailey and Kea delivering later on, the Tar Heels showed why Hatchell believes this year’s UNC is different from versions in recent years that have lacked the playmaking ability and depth to compete in the ACC.
“We can be a championship team when we play off each other because it doesn’t’t matter who scores,” Bailey said. “At the end of the day, we have to win the game. That was the message (going into the second half) and we went out there and did it.”
Even after FSU’s rally, a desperation 3-pointer by Bennett, who finished with 15 points, made it a one-point game with 1.9 seconds left.
“My team just kept telling me, ‘Keep shooting, keep shooting,’” Bennett said.
Bennett’s clutch shot came just a bit too late for the Tar Heels, who are left searching for the respect their head coach so badly wants.
Bailey knows there’s only one way to get it.
“The only way to earn respect is to get wins,” she said.
UNC’s still searching for them – and the respect they carry.