Third-ranked Tar Heels hold off late Coastal Carolina rally

CONWAY, S.C. (AP) -- The end of exams, a beach resort and lots of outlet shopping.

No wonder No. 3 North Carolina nearly turned this into a trip to forget.

"I think we kind of got too caught up in the Christmas spirit," Tar Heels star LaToya Pringle said. "We were all thinking, 'We're on vacation. We're away from school.'"

Behind Pringle's 20 points and 12 rebounds, both season highs, the Tar Heels shook out of holiday mode in time to defeat Coastal Carolina 82-58 on Monday night.

North Carolina's victory was anything but easy, its 24-point lead cut in half down the stretch in the team's latest visit to the Grand Strand.

However, North Carolina's front line, led by Pringle, made sure it didn't cost the Tar Heels (11-1).

Rashanda McCants had 18 points and Erlana Larkins 14 points as the Tar Heels (11-1) won their seventh straight in this beach community. They can add to that on Thursday night when they take on Western Kentucky as part of The Carolina Challenge at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.

The team spent a couple hours Sunday at the area's outlet mall and then had their holiday party at the hotel that night.

Who had time to think about basketball?

"We didn't come out focused, ready to play," Pringle said. "I think we got kind of comfortable with the beach scenery."

That was particularly evident in the second half.

Coastal Carolina (7-3) trailed 57-33 on the 6-foot-3 Pringle's inside bucket with 12:43 to go. But the Lady Chanticleers' 23-10 run over the next seven minutes made things uncomfortable for the favored Tar Heels.

Freshman guard Italee Lucas regained control for North Carolina with a foul shot and a 3-pointer, extending the lead to 71-56.

Coastal Carolina scored only two more points the rest of the way.

"It was a very sloppy, physical game," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said.

Part of that, Hatchell said, was because of the Tar Heels' layoff. Since a loss to top-ranked Tennessee on Dec. 2, North Carolina had played just once until coming to Kimbel Arena.

"So we were a little bit out of synch," Hatchell said.

McCants finished the game with a bandage on her forehead after a hard fall to the floor that opened a cut. She spent several minutes face down with trainers bringing out towels to wipe up the blood.

After some time on the bench cleaning up, McCants returned.

Pringle admitted she was the one who knocked McCants down.

"I apologized," Pringle said. "I saw her on the ground and thought, 'My elbow hurts.'"

McCants was getting stitched up after the game. Hatchell expected her leading scorer back for Thursday's game.

"She's tough," Hatchell said, smiling. "This'll make her tougher."

Lacey Lyons had 14 points to lead Coastal Carolina.

Coastal's C.J. Ware knew the Lady Chants would eventually get themselves into the game.

"I think the main reason was that we weren't intimidated" by the taller, stronger Tar Heels," Ware said.

North Carolina has have been at the Grand Strand since Saturday, mixing in some holiday shopping with hoops practice. The Tar Heels will remain on South Carolina's coast until after Thursday's contest, part of a college double header played amid a girls prep tournament in Myrtle Beach.

Hatchell loves her time at the beach. She spent 11 seasons coaching Francis Marion, about an hour's drive west in Florence, before moving to North Carolina in 1986.

And she's brought her team to this resort area each year since 1994-95, usually leaving with some nice memories and a victory or two.

The Tar Heels improved to 19-4 all-time along the Strand and haven't lost since December 2001.

She already scheduled Illinois for a visit here next year.

"We like it here," Hatchell said. "Plus, the people here treat us well."

Pringle doesn't expect much vacationing the next couple days, not with the kind of workouts the Tar Heels will get from Hatchell.

"We've got to prepare to come out focused and we didn't do that tonight," Pringle said. "I'm pretty sure our next two practices will make sure we're focused against Western Kentucky."