Asked if there is a Cinderella team that looks dangerous entering this week's ACC Women's Basketball Tournament, North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell responded, "Us."
The eighth-seeded Heels (18-10, 6-8 ACC) face ninth-seeded Maryland (18-11, 5-9) today at the Greensboro Coliseum in a 3 p.m. contest that will seem out-of-place to fans of these teams.
The Terrapins are the defending tournament champions; the Heels have won four of the past five tournaments. Over the past five years, with both teams ranked among the nation's best, playing on the opening day of this tournament was inconceivable.
Now it's reality as the Heels and Terps have graduated All-ACC first-team talent, fallen out of the national polls and struggled in conference play this season. The Heels lost seven of their past nine games, though closed the season with a 64-54 victory over ninth-ranked Duke.
Hatchell said the tournament title is within the Heels' grasp. If they were to advance past Maryland, the top-seeded Blue Devils await them on Friday.
UNC - which owns nine ACC Tournament titles - won the event as a fifth seed in 1984 and fourth seed in '98. Every other time it has either been a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.
"The way the league is this year, I don't think it matters where you're seeded," Hatchell said. "Because all the teams are so evenly matched and evenly balanced. ... I think anybody could win it. You just have to go over there and be ready. And be the one that plays the best on that day."
The Tar Heels can make it tough on the Terps and the rest of the field if they approach the tournament with the toughness they did against the Blue Devils.
UNC pushed the tempo, made free throws and held its own on the boards.
The Heels cannot afford to lapse into the disjointed play of February when they failed to score points during long stretches of games.
"Maybe the sleeping giant has awakened," ESPN analyst Debbie Antonelli said. "They have more to give that we haven't seen."
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