March 21, 2009


CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) -North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell worried her team might go flat before the NCAA tournament, and the Tar Heels struggled Saturday, nearly squandering a 14-point lead in the final 30 seconds.

Heather Claytor scored a season-high 17 points while Italee Lucas and Jessica Breeland added 17 each as third-seeded North Carolina beat No. 14 seed UCF 85-80 Saturday in the NCAA tournament's opening round.

North Carolina will play No. 6 seed Purdue or 11th-seeded Charlotte on Monday night in the Oklahoma City Regional's second round.

Hatchell had her team play South Dakota on March 15 - a day before the NCAA bracket announcement - to try and keep them fresh during the two-week layoff between the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and the NCAA.

Still, the Tar Heels still needed help from Claytor, who came off the bench averaging 3.7 points per game and hit 4-of-6 from 3-point range.

Eventually, North Carolina used its size to shoot over the smaller Knights, hitting 9-of-20 from 3-point range. The Tar Heels have seven players 6-foot-1 or taller compared to UCF, who played only two of its 6-footers.

The Tar Heels (28-6) improved to 15-3 all-time in first-round games but never led by more than 14 against pesky UCF whose roster's filled with only sophomores and freshmen.

Chelsie Wiley led UCF with 22 points, Emma Cannon had 18 and Marshay White 12.

The Knights (17-17) won the Conference USA tournament title with four wins in four days to make their third NCAA trip ever and first since 1999.

D'Nay Daniels' jumper gave the Knights their lone lead at 11-10 at 15:18. UCF got within 34-32 on a 3-pointer by Wiley with 3:35 to go, but North Carolina finished the half with a 10-2 run and led 44-34 at halftime.

The Tar Heels, who hadn't lost in the first round since 2004, opened the second half missing four of their first five shots with three turnovers - two coming along with an offensive foul on their first three possessions. Daniels pulled UCF within 51-45 on a baseline drive with 15:21 left.

North Carolina finally got its biggest lead at 61-47 on a 3-pointer from Claytor with 8:52 left. The Tar Heels didn't match that again until inside the final minute before a furious flurry from UCF to tighten the final score.

The Tar Heels had a scary moment with 12 minutes left as Rashanda McCants and UCF's Cannon got tangled up going after a rebound and went to the floor. McCants was slow to get up before heading to the bench where she was examined and held a bag of ice to her head. She returned and finished the game.