CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- With her team struggling at home to a ranked opponent, Rashanda McCants took over.
McCants scored 20 of her 27 points in the second half to help North Carolina (No. 3 ESPN/USA Today, No. 4 AP) to a 73-67 win against Xavier (No. 22 ESPN/USA Today, No. 23 AP) Wednesday night in the women's Preseason NIT.
She brought the Tar Heels (4-0) back from a five-point deficit in the second half.
"Rashanda is a tremendous player and that was a tough matchup for us all night," Xavier coach Kevin McGuff said. "She made some big baskets there in the second half. We came right at her and she delivered."
Cetera DeGraffenreid added 15 points and Italee Lucas had 13 for the Tar Heels.
With the win, North Carolina advances to the finals, where they will play Oklahoma or Arizona State on Sunday.
McCants' second-half performance spoiled an extraordinary effort from the Xavier center Ta'Shia Phillips. She scored 23 points and grabbed 25 rebounds in the loss.
"She's a big body and she's a great player," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "She backs you down inside and gets position. She's really got good hands, she reads well when the rebound comes off and she's so strong physically."
Jerri Taylor added 15 points for Xavier (2-1).
UNC won the game despite getting outrebounded 59-34 by the Musketeers.
"We did what we had to do to win, but the rebounds are ridiculous," Hatchell said. "We need rebounding practice."
The turning point in the game occurred in the middle of the second half. UNC when on a 14-0 run to take a 62-53 lead and control of the game.
The run was sparked by freshman Chay Shegog's steal on a pass inbound to Phillips. Shegog pushed up the court with Musketeers on her heels, and despite getting fouled on her lay-up attempt, she still managed to put it in the hoop.
The steal seemed to give the Tar Heels the energy to pull away from the Musketeers.
"For me, it just kind of said let's go," McCants said. "This is our point, that's the spark we needed to go on a run."
McCants scored the next 11 and UNC never trailed the rest of the game.
UNC's pressure defense also played a large part in its win.
Despite leading the Tar Heels to victory, McCants was disappointed with her and her team's first half effort and the poor rebounding numbers.
"We need to learn and get better because we're not going win based on these stats," she said.
And as for Hatchell's promise of tough rebounding practices?
"I'm looking forward to it because we need to be punished," McCants said.