CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina women's basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell emphatically repeated this refrain Thursday: "A lot of people are overlooking Virginia -- we're not."
Hatchell's point, directed to anyone within earshot but mostly at her team, was that the No. 2-ranked Tar Heels have a highly anticipated game scheduled against top-ranked Connecticut on Monday, though they would need to hold off a "good" Virginia team before it was kosher to think about anyone else.
No statement was truer on Friday when the Heels (17-0, 3-0 ACC) needed an efficient and commanding performance to dispatch No. 14 Virginia, 103-74, before 4,010 at the Smith Center.
After falling behind in the first half, the Heels quickly caught up and dominated the second half, scoring the most points in the program's history against the Cavaliers (14-3, 1-1).
The Heels were led by senior forward Rashanda McCants, who scored 16 of her team-high 23 points in the second half. She finished with eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and a turnover in 26 minutes.
But she had some help. Freshman Chay Shegog scored a season-high 17 points, while sophomore guard Italee Lucas chipped in 16 points and eight assists.
UNC junior forward Jessica Breland, hobbled by a right ankle injury, scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds despite eight turnovers.
"Our depth really did make a difference," said Hatchell, who played everyone on her bench, including eight players with double-figure minutes.
The Heels shot 44.7 percent from the field and were more accurate from 3-point range -- 9-for-23 -- than their previous outing against N.C. State.
Virginia junior point guard Monica Wright led the Cavaliers with a game-high 24 points. Senior Lyndra Littles added 21.
The Heels have now won 17 consecutive regular-season ACC contests and 23 straight over conference opponents.
They have also won 31 consecutive games at home.
With a 44-31 advantage in the all-time series, the Heels have won 13 straight over the Cavaliers. Virginia last posted a victory in 2003 at Charlottesville.
For the first time since the 1981-82 season, these two teams will only play once during the regular season, a significant note considering a head-to-head meeting could factor in the conference tournament seeding process.
And with that bit of business in hand, the Heels can turn their attention to top-ranked UConn. Both teams could enter Monday's night game undefeated and provide the Triangle its first No. 1 vs. No. 2 contest since Feb. 8, 2007 when the Heels and Duke met.
"It's going to be up and down," said Lucas, anticipating another high-scoring game between teams with loads of athletic talent that like to run.
A Heather Claytor 3-point basket gave the Heels their first lead of the game with about eight minutes remaining in the first half.
UNC sophomore point guard Cetera DeGraffenreid (14 points), a player never afraid to drive the lane, added two more layups and the Heels found themselves ahead 37-31 in the first half.
The Cavaliers started to unravel in the opening minutes of the second half, providing an opening that the Heels seized. The Heels went on on 20-7 run and fed off the love from the crowd.
"You could definitely feel the energy," McCants said. "You could feel the crowd into it and it just added to our bench coming in the way they did. It kind of motivates you. The way that you're feeling now, you want that feeling every game."
firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-829-4781