DeGraffenreid powers Tar Heels past Hurricanes

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Rashanda McCants broke down while thanking the crowd following North Carolina's win on Senior Night.

The crowd applauded McCants in return, knowing what the senior has helped the Tar Heels accomplish.

Cetera DeGraffenreid scored a career-high 23 points and McCants added 21 to help the Tar Heels (25-4, 10-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) beat Miami 90-76 on Thursday night.

The win concluded a second consecutive perfect season at home against conference opponents for the Tar Heels (No. 10 ESPN/USA Today, No. 9 AP), who have beaten Miami (13-15, 2-11) six straight times and won 16 ACC home games in a row.

"It means a lot," McCants said. "I think we carry a whole bunch of traditions in this university. To know that our senior class continued it and didn't lose any conference games at home [the last two seasons], I think it meant a lot.

"Especially coming to the Dean Dome, it's a different atmosphere. We were able to hold it together and keep the stretch going."

Jessica Breland added 16 points and 14 rebounds for the Tar Heels, who played all season at the Dean E. Smith Center while Carmichael Auditorium is renovated and have lost just one home game to No. 1 Connecticut.

Although the seniors were honored before the game and during a postgame video montage, it wasn't North Carolina's final home game. The Tar Heels will host South Dakota on March 15.

Still, it was an emotional night for McCants and three other seniors who began the game in the starting lineup.

McCants hasn't been feeling well lately and looked exhausted early in the game. But she played 28 minutes and shot 10-for-23 for North Carolina, which hasn't lost a home conference game since Feb. 8, 2007, against Duke and has dropped three home games over the past four seasons.

"I've been sick, so I'm kind of getting over it," McCants said. "But that's nothing. I'm going to suck it up and continue doing what I'm doing."

DeGraffenreid also felt ill, especially at halftime. But she shot 6-for-11 and had four steals to spark the Tar Heels to their eighth win in nine games heading into Sunday's ACC regular-season finale at Duke.

With DeGraffenreid running the offense, North Carolina scored on seven consecutive first-half possessions as part of a 17-3 run to break open a close game and grab a 13-point lead.

Prior to the spurt, the lead had changed hands five times. But the Hurricanes couldn't get closer than 11 points the rest of the way.

"When we are sharing the basketball and really, really moving out there and cutting in our motion offense, we're hard to stop," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said.

The Tar Heels took the lead for good at 23-22 on a layup by Breland with 7:44 left in the first half. Chay Shegog's two three-point plays and eight points helped them grab a 38-25 lead.

Lamese James scored 17 points and Epiphany Woodson added 16 for the Hurricanes, who lost their fourth consecutive game and haven't beaten North Carolina since joining the ACC.

"The game came down to 6 minutes when I just didn't recognize my team," Miami coach Katie Meier said.

DeGraffenreid finished off a 13-2 run early in the second half with a three-point play to give North Carolina a 65-41 lead.

DeGraffenreid scored five fast-break points during the spurt for the Tar Heels, who forced Miami into 21 turnovers and scored 17 points off the miscues -- many by DeGraffenreid in transition.

"I don't think it was anything different than we have done before," DeGraffenreid said. "We keep hearing, 'Attack the rim, attack the rim,' -- Coach Hatchell talks about it all the time -- so I was just trying to do that."

Breland's 16 points gave her 1,0009 for her career and Italee Lucas added 11 points, six assists and five steals for the Tar Heels, who shot 46.6 percent.

LaToya Cunningham scored 13 points for the Hurricanes, who shot 40.3 percent and made nine 3-pointers.