3:00 PM ET, December 20, 2009
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell doesn't always see everything she wants when the Tar Heels visit the Grand Strand.This time, she saw enough to take her breath away."The people that weren't here tonight, they missed a great college basketball game," a smiling Hatchell said Sunday after her Tar Heels (No. 10 ESPN/USA Today, No. 9 AP) held on to defeat South Carolina 93-85 at the Carolinas Challenge."We jumped out to a lead. South Carolina came storming back, then it was nip and tuck all the way," Hatchell said. "There was a lot of good play out there. I thought it was great."That's good news for the Tar Heels, said Cetera DeGraffenreid, who remembers all too well Hatchell's super-sized practices a year ago when a veteran North Carolina team struggled before getting past Illinois 68-59 at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.DeGraffenreid scored a career-high 26 points, 18 of those in the second half as the Tar Heels lost an 18-point lead and fell behind 65-59 before pulling out their 10th straight win in games played along South Carolina's beach resort region."This team is young," said DeGraffenreid, a junior. "I'm proud of them for stepping up."DeGraffenreid added 10 assists, six steals and hit 10 of her 12 foul shots. Her backcourt partner, Italee Lucas, had 23 points and four assists. Sophomore Chay Shegog had 17 points, including two foul shots that put North Carolina ahead for good.Hatchell put plenty of her youngsters in at the most critical moments. Freshman Tierra Ruffin-Pratt had nine points, including the bucket that tied things at 69-all. Waltiea Rolle, another first-year player, hit five of six shots from the field for 10 points and added five rebounds and three blocks."They all grew up tonight," Hatchell said.Kelsey Bone, South Carolina's 6-foot-5 freshman, had 27 points and 10 rebounds for her fourth double-double this season.The Tar Heels (9-1) were up 42-24 in the first half and looked on the way to another blowout victory in the Carolinas Challenge. Instead, the Gamecocks (6-4) stormed back to take a 69-66 lead with nine minutes to go.North Carolina visits the Grand Strand each season, typically playing its last game before a holiday break at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.The players get in a couple of days of outlet shopping, hundreds of Carolina blue-clad fans pack the gym, and the Tar Heels, more often than not, leave with a victory.They came in 21-4 when playing at the Palmetto State's beach resort, many of those wins by double-digit margins.This one looked headed for a blowout, too. Ruffin-Pratt's inside basket with 4:53 before halftime put the Heels up by 18.The Gamecocks then took off on a 15-2 run to close the period. Valerie Nainima had 10 points, including two 3-pointers, during the surge that cut North Carolina's lead to 44-39.The Tar Heels built the lead up to 11 points with a 10-4 run to start the second half before South Carolina came back again."I think our kids got a lot of fight in them," South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. "I think this is something we've been trying to get out of them since the first day of practice."The Gamecocks also matched the Tar Heels in support, two full loud sections of fans, many wearing "Beat UNC" shirts, shouted and stomped during South Carolina's rally.Ruffin-Pratt tied the game at 69 for North Carolina with 8:49 to go. Chay Shegog put the Tar Heels up for good moments later with two foul shots.Staley hoped to continue her own run of success against the Tar Heels. She won all nine times she played North Carolina as Virginia's star point guard from 1989-1992.Hatchell saw Staley's old college tenacity in the Gamecocks. "When she was at Virginia, she used to kick our behinds all the time with her intensity," Hatchell said.Looks as if Hatchell's Tar Heels have some of that on their side, too.