CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Sylvia Hatchell spent all Monday night telling her North Carolina players to keep believing they could win despite yet another key injury, a bevy of turnovers and the struggle to find any rhythm offensively.
At least her Tar Heels proved they'll still listen to their coach on a rough night.
Chay Shegog hit the go-ahead free throws with 1:11 left, helping North Carolina (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today, No. 25 AP) rally past Miami (No. 10 ESPN/USA Today, No. 12 AP) 65-63 in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both teams.
Shegog finished with 20 points to lead the Tar Heels (11-2, 1-0 ACC), who won despite finishing with a season-high 31 turnovers. North Carolina trailed by eight with about 5½ minutes left before fighting back to take its first lead on Shegog's free throws. Freshman Brittany Rountree added 14 points for the Tar Heels, including two free throws with 16.7 seconds left to push UNC's lead to four.
The Tar Heels held on from there, surviving a missed layup by Miami's Riquna Williams that would've tied it with 2 seconds left as well as Morgan Stroman's hurried heave that fell way short as the horn sounded.
"About the only thing I can say is they never gave up and they played with a lot of heart," Hatchell said. "It wasn't pretty and we had a lot of turnovers, but they kept fighting and playing hard."
It was a victory that's sure to give the Tar Heels some confidence, not to mention show Hatchell that she's got a bunch of fighters despite a rough start.
Williams knocked down 3-pointers on the first two possessions for the Hurricanes (11-3, 0-1) while the Tar Heels missed a pair of layups on their first two trips down the floor. An irate Hatchell had seen enough by that point, calling a timeout 68 seconds in to have an animated discussion with her players in the huddle.
"I said, 'Look, y'all are playing like you're afraid of them,' " Hatchell said. "'We're in a battle out here, you know? You've got to be aggressive."
But things got worse. First North Carolina fell behind by 11 points. Then senior guard She'la White rolled her left ankle while driving to the basket in the latest blow to a roster already depleted by injuries. White tried to return later in the half, but her departure looked crippling when freshmen Rountree and Shannon Smith were left as the only true ballhandlers against Miami's pressure -- not to mention when Rountree picked up her fourth foul less than a minute into the second half.
At times, the Tar Heels were struggling to get the ball across midcourt against Miami's fullcourt trap. Smith had nine turnovers and repeatedly heard frustrated streams both from the UNC sideline or her own teammates.
Yet the Tar Heels played enough defense to hold Miami to 35-percent shooting, including 6-for-26 from 3-point range. They also took a 41-34 rebounding advantage and finished with a 16-7 edge in second-chance points, including when the 5-foot-7 Smith somehow managed to grab her own miss and score to tie the game at 60 with 1:53 left.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes were going in the wrong direction.
"We just didn't have that fight that we normally have," said Stroman, who had 13 points. "It's like, I guess, we're depending on everyone to make the big shots at the end of the game and at that time, we just need to step up and ... play with our chest out and play with confidence. And we weren't playing like that."
Miami led 58-50 on Stefanie Yderstrom's third 3-pointer with 5:19 left, but the Hurricanes missed eight of their last 10 shots. The teams were tied on the boards with about 7½ minutes left before the Tar Heels pushed ahead there late.
Williams finished with 16 points, including a driving layup while drawing a blocking foul from Smith for a three-point play that brought Miami to within 64-63 with 11.1 seconds left. Yderstrom added 15 points, though preseason ACC player of the year Shenise Johnson had 11 on 4-for-13 shooting.
That defense helped negate all the turnovers that led to 25 points for Miami -- though the Tar Heels didn't have a turnover in the final 4½ minutes.
"You've got to finish games on the road in the ACC," Miami coach Katie Meier said, "and we didn't."