LAS VEGAS -- Italee Lucas made a triumphant return home to Las Vegas.
She scored 24 points to help No. 4 North Carolina beat UNLV 78-68 on Sunday.
"She had a great year last year and I think she'll have a great year this year," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "She fits our style and I let her do a lot of her stuff that probably a lot of other coaches wouldn't. But she's really grown and matured as a player in her decision making, and she's an outstanding shooter. She just brings a lot of energy out there."
Lucas scored seven of the Tar Heels' first 11 points during the second half. Then, after missing two free throws with 1:19 left, the junior scored off her own offensive rebound to give North Carolina a 74-66 lead.
"I'm just really excited that it [the victory] was in front of my fans and my family," said Lucas. "They got a chance to see me on [something] other than TV."
Hatchell had to take Lucas out of the game, though, when she re-injured her knee with just under one minute left.
"Before this game I've been having knee problems," Lucas said. "This is my second game actually playing. It's fine; I just tweaked it a little bit.
Cetera DeGraffenreid, who converted on all 10 of her free throws, followed with 22 points for the Tar Heels.
"Cetera runs the show for us, does a great job," Hatchell said. "I ran a lot of kids and you can tell with the minutes. We're still, at times, lost out there, but we'll continue to get better."
Chay Shegog and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt each had 11 rebounds for the Tar Heels (3-0).
Jamie Smith led the Lady Rebels (2-2) with 17 points and 18 rebounds. Kelli Thompson added 15 points. The Lady Rebels came within four points of the lead in the first half and closed within five points twice during the final five minutes of the game.
"They went up and down the floor with us," Hatchell said. "I thought they shot the ball really, really well. Kathy's [UNLV coach Kathy Olivier is] doing a great job here and they're going to be really good."