PITTSBURGH -- Prairie View's players tried to convince themselves that North Carolina was just another opponent, just another team. Only seconds after the mismatch began, it was obvious the Tar Heels were much, much more than that.
North Carolina needed less than four minutes to open a 20-point lead and cruised after that behind 14 points each from Camille Little and Jessica Breland in a 95-38 first-round rout of Prairie View A&M in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.Carolina (31-3) also got 13 points each from star Ivory Latta and Rashanda McCants in advancing to a second-round game Tuesday night against ninth-seeded Notre Dame (20-11).The 57-point margin of victory was Carolina's largest in a women's tournament game, and it could have been worse. With her team up 57-15 at halftime, coach Sylvia Hatchell called off the man-to-man and pressure defenses to go with a seldom-used zone defense."We could have stayed with what we were doing and scored a lot more points, but there was no use in that," Hatchell said. "We got to work on a few things in the second half -- who knows, we may have to play some zone down the road."North Carolina was No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll last week and is top-seeded in the Dallas Regional, while Prairie View (19-14) lost 10 consecutive games early in the season before rebounding for its first winning season and NCAA Tournament appearance.But the imbalance in skill, experience and size -- the Tar Heels' guards were bigger than Prairie View's frontcourt players -- was considerably greater than Panthers coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke imagined. During a pregame shootaround held around 8 a.m., the one-time WNBA star challenged her players to ignore North Carolina's reputation and play their game.Easy for her to say, as the former gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic player was easily the best player on the floor during her team's practice Saturday."North Carolina was bigger, stronger and faster than we were," Cooper-Dyke said. "But we are very young and have a bright future. I like our chances of coming back and making a bigger impact. ... We will be better and we will be ready."Her team's don't-be-intimidated attitude lasted only about 90 seconds, or the time North Carolina needed to open a 13-2 lead. Scoring any way they wanted to, on pull-up jumpers or by repeatedly pounding the ball inside, the Tar Heels led 24-4 with 15:23 left in the half and reached the 50-point mark with nearly three minutes left before halftime."We didn't take anyone lightly," Little said. "Everybody wanted to come out and play with intensity and we did that. We wouldn't look past any opponent."It didn't matter who Hatchell played -- every one of her 11 players probably could have been Prairie View's best player. Each player was on the court for at least 16 minutes, and none played more than 21 minutes."We came out fine and, hopefully, we will continue to do that," said Latta, a three-time ACC tournament most valuable player.Prairie View committed 27 turnovers and shot 25 percent (15-of-60) to North Carolina's 36-of-66 (54.5 percent). Carolina's starters made 21 of 34 shots.It was a credit to Cooper-Dyke's coaching that the Panthers advanced this far, shaking off early season losses by margins of 44, 41 and 39 points to win their final nine games and reach the NCAA Tournament."We're going to set the bar higher and higher," said Gaati Werema, one of Prairie View's eight freshmen.Those nine consecutive victories came against opponents far inferior to North Carolina, which started the season 24-0 before dropping three of the next six. The Tar Heels rebounded to win the ACC tournament and now look to have an excellent chance of returning to the Final Four, where they lost a year ago to Maryland.The Tar Heels are 13-3 in first-round games, last losing in 2004.