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Lucas scores 10 of 19 during Tar Heels' run to victory

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- Beware, Western Michigan. Sylvia Hatchell doesn't like to get embarrassed.

The North Carolina coach was livid at her team's sloppy play in a win against Illinois and vowed to have the No. 2-ranked Tar Heels much sharper for their next game, which just happens to be against the Broncos on Dec. 28.

"This is not our typical team and I'm embarrassed that people saw us play like we did tonight," Hatchell said.

Imagine how she'd react had the Tar Heels lost instead of rallying past the Illini 68-59 on Saturday.

There was plenty for the coach to criticize. Still, Italee Lucas had 10 of her 19 points in an 18-2 run that lifted North Carolina to the victory and a 12-0 start for the third time in four seasons.

The Tar Heels came into the Carolinas Challenge off a big win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Monday, when they scored a season-high 104 points.

They followed that with their lowest-scoring half of the season, down 25-23 at the break. They trailed 41-33 with about 15 minutes left before Lucas fueled the go-ahead surge.

"For that, we just had to use our heart," said Lucas, a soft-shooting sophomore. "We couldn't use our skills. Our skills weren't helping us out."

Rashanda McCants added 15 points for the Tar Heels.

The team takes an eight-day break for the holidays, returning to work after Christmas. Hatchell thought her group checked out a bit earlier than expected.

Hatchell encouraged her players to enjoy the time off, as practice won't be a picnic when they get back.

"I'm going to go write out practice while this is fresh on my mind," Hatchell said. "Because, trust me, there will be tons of intensity drills."

The first objective would be a crisper start. North Carolina had nearly as many turnovers (9) as field goals (10) and whiffed on its mostly open 3-pointers, going 1 of 11, in the opening 20 minutes.

"If they had some depth, they would've won," Hatchell said.

Indeed, Illinois coach Jolette Law made one 2-minute substitution in the second half, her starting five playing a combined 198 minutes.

"I think we started to get some unforced turnovers," Law said. "We started thinking too much, started playing not too lose. Too hesitant."

And that's the crack North Carolina needed to win for the ninth straight time along the Grand Strand, South Carolina's major seaside resort region.

The decisive run began with two buckets by Jessica Breland. Soon after, Lucas made a 3-pointer to tie the score at 41. Lucas had another field goal and two free throws before hitting the last of her three 3-pointers to put North Carolina ahead 51-43.

Illinois came as close as 63-59 on Chelsea Gordon's 3 with 1:23 to go. But the Tar Heels held on.

Jenna Smith led the Illini with 20 points and nine rebounds.

The Carolinas Classic is an annual trip for North Carolina -- and usually a successful one. The Tar Heels haven't lost here since 2001 and typically play to large crowds at a Myrtle Beach Convention Center filled with potential prospects competing in a concurrent high school holiday tournament.

North Carolina plans to return in 2009, the 16th straight year it's played here.

Hatchell, a former coach at Francis Marion in Florence about an hour away, enjoys the time away from campus, the outlet shopping and the holiday mood. She also likes catching up with the friends and former players who regularly pop by to watch each year.

"I don't know what they thought about tonight," Hatchell said.

It's probably not near as awful as what North Carolina's coach thought of her undefeated team.

"We really are a much better team than what we showed," she said.