When North Carolina senior guard Heather Claytor dove on the floor after a loose ball on Sunday, her team way ahead of N.C. Central, she provided just the selfless, at-any-cost example her coach had been requesting.
"First thing I did," UNC women's basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell said, "was look down and make sure everybody on that bench was standing up cheering for her. That's what you have to do if you're going to win big games."
Hatchell, whose No. 8-ranked team experienced some tough knocks last month against ranked opponents, knows there are more big games down the road. On Monday, the Tar Heels host No. 4 Duke in a nationally televised rivalry game.
Consecutive losses to No. 1 Connecticut, Georgia Tech and Maryland two weeks ago could define the season for the Heels (19-3, 4-2 ACC) -- or end up as just a blip on the radar screen.
Hatchell is planning for the latter as she tries to instill an aggressive, attacking mentality in her team that will have players racing up the court with the intent of finishing at the rim.
"That's the way our teams have always been," she said. "I think we've gotten away from that some in the last month or so."
More hustle plays like Claytor's may provide transition opportunities, where the Heels excel. Hatchell said if the players attack the basket with more zeal, they may rebound and defend better. She liked the effort against Wake Forest and N.C. Central in the past two games, but she's looking for consistency.
This season, the Heels are ranked 10th in rebounding defense, allowing opponents an average of 41.9 boards per game. Their rebounding margin is just plus-3.3.
FIVE TO WATCH
* N.C. State at No. 13 Maryland, 7 p.m. Thursday
* Virginia Tech at No. 8 North Carolina, 7 p.m. Thursday
* No. 4 Duke at No. 17 Virginia, 7 p.m. Thursday
* N.C. State at Georgia Tech, 2 p.m. Sunday
* No. 4 Duke at No. 8 North Carolina, 7:30 p.m. Monday (ESPN2)
ACC PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Virginia senior guard Lyndra Littles earned the honor for the second time this season after averaging 23.0 points and 6.3 rebounds and helping her team to an upset victory over Maryland. She scored 30 points against the Terrapins.
ACC ROOKIE OF THE WEEK
Wake Forest's Secily Ray scored a career-high 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in leading her team to a victory over Miami.
This season, I'm a voter for The Associated Press Women's Top 25 poll. Here are my top five: No. 1 Connecticut (21-0), No. 2 Oklahoma (18-2), No. 3 California (18-2), No. 4 Duke (17-2), No. 5 Auburn (21-1)
Baylor dropped from the top five after losses to Oklahoma and Texas. California returned to my top five, joined by Auburn for the first time.
You can find my other picks on The News & Observer's women's hoops blog at http://blogs.newsobserver.com/ womenshoops/home.
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