North Carolina rallies past Cal
McGee tallies 23 kills and adds 15 digs for the Tar Heels
MALIBU, Calif. -- Trailing two sets to one, North Carolina fought back to defeat No. 10 California 3-2 (25-17, 16-25, 23-25, 25-17, 15-9) in the opening round of the NCAA tournament from Firestone Fieldhouse. Junior Emily McGee posted 23 kills and 15 digs, notching the 16th double-double of her last 18 matches, and senior Erica Behm tallied 51 assists to lead the Tar Heel attack. Senior Kaylie Gibson piloted the defense with 20 digs.
"I'm really proud of our team for fighting back tonight," said head coach Joe Sagula. "This is one of the biggest wins in Carolina history. We stuck to our game plan and served and passed really well. Our defense was also very strong. We have a lot of respect for Cal and what its program stands for--they have really established a strong tradition. So it just means so much to not only advance in the tournament, but to defeat a program like Cal."
The opening set was back-and-forth in the early going, featuring four tie scores and three lead changes. With the score knotted at nine, Carolina went on an 11-4 tear, capped by back-to-back kills from Emily McGee en route to a seven-point lead (20-13). The Tar Heels later closed out the frame (25-17) on consecutive blocks by Chaniel Nelson. UNC posted a .367 hitting percentage to trump Cal's .182 in set one. McGee posted seven kills on 13 swings with only two errors for a .387 attack efficiency.
Cal ran out to an early lead in the second frame (11-6), capped by a kill by Kat Brown. The Tar Heels battled back to within two at 11-9 after a kill by Kayla Berringer, but the Golden Bears answered with a 12-5 run to take a nine-point lead (23-14). California captured set point (25-16) on a Correy Johnson kill. The Bears bounced back with a .401 attack efficiency in set two compared to .081 for Carolina.
Carolina raced out to a four-point advantage (7-3) in the third, following a block by Nelson and Cameron Van Noy. Cal countered with a 7-2 spurt to pull ahead by one (10-9), forcing the Tar Heels to call a timeout. The Bears went ahead by three (14-11) after a UNC attack error, but the Tar Heels came back and went up by one (15-14) on a service ace by Erica Behm. With Carolina leading by two (23-21) late in the frame, Cal reeled of three consecutive scores out of a timeout to take a one-point advantage (24-23), before grabbing set point (25-23) on a Tar Heel attack error.
It was UNC that again jumped out to an early lead in set four (7-2), capped by a service ace from Ece Taner. Cal fought back to deadlock the score (9-9), but the Tar Heels took the next four points to go back ahead, 13-9, following a block by Nelson and Van Noy. Cal went on its own 3-0 spurt out of a timeout to pare the Carolina advantage to one (13-12). UNC later began to pull away, going up by four (20-16) on a kill by McGee, forcing the Bears to call timeout. Carolina finished off set four on a 5-1 run out of the break, capturing set point on a block by Nelson and Van Noy.
Carolina carried the momentum into the deciding fifth set, grabbing an early five-point lead (8-3) as the teams swapped sides. Cal fought back to within two (9-7) after a kill by Tarah Murrey, but Carolina took four of the last six points, with Van Noy and Behm combining on a block for match point (15-9).
Carolina out-blocked the Bears, 17-11, to stay perfect in five-set matches in 2011. UNC is now 4-0 in five-setters, dating back to a 3-2 victory against then No. 21 Miami Oct. 9, at Carmichael Arena.
The Tar Heels found redemption in the victory against Cal, after being swept by the Bears in the second round of the 2010 NCAA tournament.