Next up for Nebraska is a tough road game in Chapel Hill as the Huskers face the 18th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge Wednesday at 5 p.m. (central).
My good friend and national television analyst Debbie Antonelli has always given the best and most succinct assessment of the North Carolina women’s basketball program. When talking about teams with speed, Debbie has frequently said, “There’s ‘fast’, and then there’s ‘North Carolina-fast!”
The Tar Heels are a proud program with a great winning tradition and have been known for many years as a team that can disrupt and dictate with their speed. They have played with a style that attacks aggressively and takes pride in rebounding. Unfortunately for North Carolina, the focus of this season’s team isn’t solely on their exceptional freshmen, ranked as the nation’s top recruiting class. Any discussion of the Tar Heels this year starts with the devastating news that longtime Head Coach Sylvia Hatchell is taking a temporary leave from her duties as she battles leukemia.
A true legend in the game, Hatchell is the winningest active coach in women’s basketball and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame this summer. She became just the third women’s basketball coach to win 900 games last season and her 636-241 mark at Carolina makes her one of only three women’s coaches to reach the 600-win mark at an Atlantic Coast Conference school. A 2004 inductee into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, Hatchell has been named national coach of the year three times and has led teams to at least 20 wins 29 times, fourth-most nationally.
When her 1994 team defeated Louisiana Tech to win the NCAA Championship, she became the first and only coach to lead teams to national championships at the AIAW, NAIA and NCAA levels. Since coming to Chapel Hill in 1986, Hatchell's Tar Heels have won a national championship and eight ACC titles, compiled six 30-win seasons and claimed five ACC Player-of-the-Year honors.
Filling in this season as acting North Carolina Head Coach is 28-year assistant Andrew Calder. A member of the staff for every season since Hatchell took over the program in 1986, Calder takes over a team that won 29 games last season. After the graduation of point guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, forward Krista Gross and center Waltiea Rolle, UNC’s 2013-14 roster doesn’t list any seniors and only returns two starters from last year’s team that finished second in the ACC and earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the second round.
The Tar Heels were picked fourth in the ACC in the preseason poll this year. Calder has continued the up-tempo style of play the Tar Heels have been known for under Hatchell, and has stated that their goal is to win the rebounding battle in every game by getting 40 percent of their missed shots and holding their opponents to getting only 30 percent of their misses.
Xylina (zuh-LEE-nuh) McDaniel, a 6-2 sophomore forward, burst onto the scene last season and started 33 games en route being named the ACC Rookie of the Year. She averaged 11.3 points and 7.1 rebounds and was named first-team all-conference by the league’s coaches. The daughter of former NBA star Xavier McDaniel, Xylina averages 10.5 points and 5.8 rebounds through eight games this season.
Diamond DeShields, a 6-1 freshman, headlines a four-person freshman class that was ranked No. 1 in the nation. DeShields was the 2013 State Farm/WBCA High School Player of the Year and the Naismith Girls’ High School Player of the Year. The 2013 Miss Georgia Basketball selection led Team USA to the gold medal in the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championships as the tournament MVP. She also won gold as the youngest member of the 2010 U18 World Championship team. She was ranked as the No. 3 overall player and No. 1 for her position coming out of high school by ESPN HoopGurlz.
Like McDaniel, DeShields comes from a very athletic family. Her father Delino was a 13-year Major League Baseball second baseman and her mother, Tisha, was an All-America performer in track and field at Tennessee. DeShields has started seven of eight games this season and leads North Carolina in scoring (16.8 ppg), steals and minutes per game.
Allisha Gray has only started one game for the Tar Heels this year, but is second on the team in scoring (15.4 points) and minutes per game. The 6-0 freshman is an excellent three-point shooter who is tied for the team lead in triples (10) and has made almost 36 percent of her attempts. The 2012 Georgia High School Player of the Year missed most of her senior season due to a knee injury. She was ranked as the No. 7 player overall and No. 4 guard by ESPN HoopGurlz coming out of high school.
Freshman Stephanie Mavunga has made an immediate impact in the middle of the floor for North Carolina. The 6-3 forward is the only player on the roster to start all eight games this season. Mavunga is averaging a double-double (14.8 ppg, 10.5 rrpg) and has blocked 23 shots. By comparison, the entire Nebraska team has only blocked 18 shots through seven games. Through the end of last week, Mavunga ranked 15th nationally in blocks and was 12th in field goal percentage (.636). She had a game-high 24 points and 12 rebounds in North Carolina’s 87-51 win over Illinois Saturday at the Cancun Challenge. It was the fifth double-double for Mavunga, the 2013 Indiana High School Player of the Year.
UNC has had nine different players start this season and 5-9 junior guard Brittany Rountree has started seven. Last year she became the starter at shooting guard, which moved Ruffin-Pratt to point guard. Rountree led the team with 50 three-pointers and made multiple three’s on 15 occasions. Her .417 long-range shooting as a freshman was the second-best percentage in program history. Rountree averages 5.1 points per game.
The Tar Heels are 6-2, including a win at UCLA. Their losses were at Tennessee and in overtime in the Cancun Tournament last week to Arizona State. According to the latest NCAA national statistics, North Carolina ranks second nationally in field goal percentage defense and ninth in steals. They average 13.1 steals per game and are holding their opponents to just .291 shooting. The Tar Heels also rank 10th in the nation in scoring offense with 86.0 points per game.
Nebraska defeated North Carolina in the only previous meeting between the two schools. The Huskers won 81-75 in the second game of a three-game tournament on Dec. 20, 1995 at the Carolinas Holiday Beach Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
I cordially invite you to join Jeff Griesch and me for Nebraska Women’s Basketball on the Husker Sports Network. Our radio broadcast Wednesday evening begins with the pre-game show at 4:45 p.m. (central) with the tip-off scheduled for 5 p.m. on the Husker Sports Network including KBBK B107.3 in Lincoln, KFFF 93.3 in Omaha, KWBE 1450 in Beatrice, KCOW 1400 in Alliance, KRGI 1430 in Grand Island, KNEB 94.1 in Scottsbluff, KHAS 1230 in Hastings, KBRB 1400 in Ainsworth, KSID 1340 in Sidney and many others. All Husker women’s basketball broadcasts are also available for free worldwide on the internet at www.huskers.com. I hope you can join us.
There are a number of ways to get enhanced information about our broadcast and Husker Women’s Basketball via social media. You can learn more about the team on the Nebraska Women’s Basketball Facebook page or follow the team on their official Twitter page @huskerswbb. I also invite you to friend me on Facebook (Matt Coatney) or follow me on Twitter @coatman1. Go Big Red!