The Associated Press
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — North Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell had a simple message for her No. 10 Tar Heels on Sunday, reminding them they were much taller than South Carolina. And No. 10 North Carolina (11-0) used that height advantage well, pulling down 24 more rebounds than the Gamecocks (5-5) in a 75-51 win.
South Carolina doesn’t have anyone taller than 6-foot-1, so Hatchell kept a fresh set of forwards and centers coming at them. Six-foot-3 Jessica Breland led the Tar Heels with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while 6-foot-6 Waltiea Rolle had 14 points and 12 rebounds. “I think our size made a difference,” Hatchell said.
The Tar Heels are trying to make it through the first two months of the season undefeated for the second time in three years and don’t play another major conference team until the Atlantic Coast Conference season starts. The schedule hasn’t been too tough, with just one team currently in the top 25 in Iowa. “If you don’t space things out, you can burn them out,” Hatchell said. “I try to plan it so they peak in March.”
North Carolina survived a sloppy first half that saw them turn over the ball 17 times — three more than its average per game coming in. But South Carolina couldn’t take advantage of the mistakes. The Gamecocks shot just 27 percent (9 of 33) from the field in the first half and made just one of 15 3-pointers. They also were outrebounded 33-14 in the first 20 minutes.
“When all that is going against you, it’s hard to keep the game close,” South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said.
The Gamecocks hit four more from behind the arc in the second half, but still shot worse than their season average of 26.2 percent, one of the worst percentages in the nation.
Marah Strickland led the Gamecocks with 18 points, while La’Keisha Sutton added nine points.
The Gamecocks led just once — 19-18 about midway through the first half after Samone Kennedy made a free throw. The Tar Heels answered on Cetera DeGraffenried’s fastbreak layup seven seconds later that sparked a 23-8 run that gave North Carolina a 41-27 lead at half.
In the locker room, Hatchell wasn’t as angry with the 17 turnovers as some might have thought, Breland said. “A lot of them came when we were trying to fast break,” she said. “Coach Hatchell is kind of OK with fastbreak turnovers as long as we’re pushing it.”
There was plenty of Carolina blue in the stands as Hatchell brought her team to Myrtle Beach for a December “home” game for a 16th consecutive year. Hatchell won two national titles about 60 miles away at Division II Francis Marion and heavily works the high schools in northeast South Carolina. “I love coming down here,” said Hatchell, whose teams are now 18-4 in Myrtle Beach. “All the people who are so special to me come down here.”
South Carolina fell to 3-19 against ranked opponents since Dawn Staley took over three seasons ago and hasn’t beaten a top ten team since January 2002. A three-time Olympic gold medalist on the court with six NCAA tournament appearances at Temple, Staley is now 29-38 in her third season with the Gamecocks. Her career winning percentage has dropped from .683 to .630 since coming to Columbia.
“One of these days,” Staley said with a small smile after the game. “One of these days.”