After an uncharacteristically poor season in 2000-01, the University of North Carolina women’s basketball team returns to the NCAA tournament, facing Ivy League champion Harvard in a first-round matchup Saturday evening at Carmichael Arena in Chapel Hill, N.C.
A trio of guards—senior Nikki Teasley, junior Coretta Brown and freshman Leah Metcalf—led the Tar Heels to a 24-8 overall record and an 11-5 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) mark. North Carolina received an at-large berth from the NCAA after finishing second in the ACC tournament, marking UNC Coach Sylvia Hatchell’s tenth NCAA appearance. The Tar Heels also finished at No. 16 in the final national polls.
North Carolina won the national championship in 1994 but only got to the Sweet Sixteen in its last appearance in 2000.
The Tar Heels welcomed two players missing from last year’s squad—freshman Metcalf, the preseason ACC Rookie of the Year, and Teasley. Teasley, who had been the 1997-98 Rookie of the Year and one of the team’s most talented players two years ago, sat out the 2000-01 season for “personal reasons.” She later disclosed she had suffered from depression and in consultation with Hatchell decided to take time off.
UNC opened the 2001-02 season in the preseason National Invitational Tournament (NIT). After an easy 77-59 first-round victory over George Mason and a similar effort in the quarterfinals, the Tar Heels ran into a stumbling block in the semifinals.
That stumbling block was UConn, the No. 1 team in the country. Early foul trouble doomed Teasley while the Huskies went on to smash the Tar Heels, 94-74.
North Carolina then proceeded to post 100-point efforts in three of its next four games, including a 100-44 rout of Western Carolina. It also upset No. 17 Old Dominion, 95-85, when Teasley scored the last ten points to secure the victory. By this point in the season, Hatchell had moved Teasley to the point, where she flourished. The move also opened up shots for Brown, who led the team in scoring.
The ACC season started out fortuitously for the Tar Heels, as they opened up with a 90-68 win over Wake Forest before easily defeating Maryland and Florida State. They dropped their first conference contest next, when N.C. State managed to sneak in the winning layup with 9.3 seconds left and escape with the upset, 66-63.
North Carolina improved its ACC record to 4-1 after a hard-fought victory over Clemson, 89-85. Brown scored a season-high 26 points against the Tigers to lead UNC to the win.
The Heels struggled through their next three games, however, and saw their national ranking drop to as low as No. 24. An ugly game against Georgia Tech, marked by horrid shooting, led to a 81-62 loss. North Carolina then lost to Wake Forest, 64-63, even though it held the lead with under 20 seconds left.
Finally, the reeling Tar Heels had to face No. 3-ranked Duke, winner of three straight ACC titles. The unstoppable Lady Blue Devils embarrassed the supposed second-best team in the conference, 102-82.
That would be the last non-Duke ACC loss, however. North Carolina rolled off seven straight conference victories to improve to 11-4. It gained a measure of revenge in defeating N.C. State 80-71, beating Georgia Tech in Atlanta, and finally smashing Florida State by 30 points.
In its last ACC regular-season game, though, UNC had to once again face Duke. Though the Tar Heels had an early lead, they totally collapsed midway through the first half. Duke went on a 40-8 run over both halves and won running away, 90-75.
Seeded second behind Duke in the post-season tournament, North Carolina held true to form. Teasley scored 25 points and Brown added 23 in the first round of the tourney when the team beat Maryland, 78-53. It was somewhat of a Pyrrhic victory, however, as Metcalf strained her right shoulder and was ineffective the rest of the tournament.
Teasley led the Heels with 14 points in a 58-52 win over N.C. State in the semis, which drew them into another game with Duke in the finals. It was a much closer game than any of the previous two encounters, and Teasley managed to score 19 points. But Duke, who enjoyed the first perfect season in the ACC history, finished off UNC, 87-80.
Despite the loss, the Tar Heels managed to stay in the top 16 in the national rankings and was awarded with a No. 4 seed, in the Midwest.
That meant it got to host one of the local quadrants, and it also set up a rematch of 1997, when the Heels also hosted the Crimson in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
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