McCants, Tar Heels close first half with 10-2 run, move on in WNIT

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell wasn't surprised when her team got off to a slow start. She was pleased that her players recovered and found their rhythm.

Rashanda McCants scored 15 points to help North Carolina (No. 4 ESPN/USA Today, No. 6 AP) beat Virginia Commonwealth 77-65 on Sunday in the second round of the Women's Preseason National Invitation Tournament.

Heather Claytor added 13 points for the Tar Heels (2-0), who led just 21-20 with 5 minutes remaining in the first half. But they responded with a 10-2 run after a timeout by Hatchell, carrying a 37-26 lead into halftime.

"At the beginning of the game -- and I know these kids pretty good -- I didn't feel like they were ready. So we started out that way," Hatchell said. "Finally we picked it up with some intensity and got some things going."

Jessica Breland, Cetera DeGraffenreid and Martina Wood scored 10 points apiece for North Carolina, which shot 51 percent from the floor and blocked 10 shots. The Tar Heels will host Xavier, which beat Indiana 62-59 on Sunday, in Wednesday's semifinals.

North Carolina outscored Virginia Commonwealth by a combined 32-12 in the final 5 minutes of the first half and the first 5 minutes of the second half, holding the Rams to just three field goals during that stretch.

"I think we finally realized that we were playing a game against a great team and that it wasn't going to be easy," said Claytor, who made 3 of 4 3-point attempts. "We just had to get that fire under ourselves, and I think we finally did that."

Quanitra Hollingsworth led the Rams (1-1), who defeated Liberty 59-57 in the first round, with 20 points. Radoslava Bachvarova added 19 points for Virginia Commonwealth, which shot 39 percent from the field and committed 21 turnovers.

The Rams trailed by as many as 27 points in the second half, but they closed the game on a 15-2 run over the final 4 minutes to tighten the final score.

"North Carolina just forces you to play at a tempo that is very difficult to simulate day in and day out at practice," VCU coach Beth Cunningham said. "They forced us into not executing our offense the way we wanted to and forced us into turnovers that were critical."

The Tar Heels had turnover woes of their own, getting whistled for traveling violations five times in the game's first 9 minutes. But they settled down to record their 22nd consecutive home win and their 69th consecutive home win against non-conference competition.

"It's exciting to know that we can get a lot better," McCants said. "We've just got to keep working."