CHAPEL HILL — Less than a minute into Thursday nights game, it was apparent as soon as forward Jessica Breland spun inside for a layup that North Carolina's women's basketball team intended to attack the paint.
With crisp high-low passing and dribble drives, the No. 10 Tar Heels (17-2, 3-1 ACC) steadily pounded Wake Forest inside, walking away from Carmichael Arena with a satisfying and confidence-mending 71-56 victory.
The Heels, who were trounced by No. 2 Connecticut 83-57 on Monday, appeared as if they had recovered from the loss and pressed back against their in-state, ACC opponent.
The Demon Deacons (10-10, 1-3), who have far fewer weapons than the Huskies, were outworked at nearly every position. The Heels were outrebounded by the Deacs 53-51, but outscored them in the paint 32-24 and never trailed, jumping out to a 12-2 lead and building their largest lead 23 points with nine minutes left.
We wanted to start strong with our defense, UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said. And also being aggressive offensively. ... Just sort of get back to playing what were known for. Going after people and going up and down the floor.
Holding a noticeable height advantage, the Heels fed post players Chay Shegog, Laura Broomfield, Waltiea Rolle and Breland though the senior would play limited minutes after leaving the game with a minor knee injury midway through the first half.
Breland will undergo a MRI exam on Friday to determine the extent of the injury. It is uncertain when she injured her knee.
UNC senior Italee Lucas, who led her team with 20 points, collected them inside as well as outside, finishing on breaks and drives from the perimeter. Yet she also made an impact as a passer, dishing three assists and setting up her teammates.
Running their half-court motion set, UNC guards were superb at moving the ball around the arc and delivering accurate entry passes.
Lucas twice whipped passes to Broomfield late in the first half to stake the Heels to a 36-16 lead with 3 minutes, 40 seconds remaining.
The first assist came as Broomfield fought for position on the left block. The second assist from Lucas came on a drive from the right 3-point line, where she penetrated the lane and kicked a passed to the 6-foot-1 junior forward on the baseline. Broomfield knocked down the 15-foot jumper and finished the game with a career-high 19 points and 11 rebounds.
Laura is an amazing player, Lucas said. The only thing that can stop her is herself. ... Just seeing some of the athletic things she can do, some of the rebounds, cleaning the glass. Call her Windex. Once her confidence is there shes just going to grow to her potential.
Junior center Chay Shegog contributed 10 points and seven rebounds, despite shooting 3-for-12 from the field. Rolle added seven points, eight rebounds and a season-high six blocks.
Hatchell said she was pleased with her teams aggressiveness, especially as it compared with their performance against the Huskies.
Hatchell said she readjusted her game plan from Monday, where the coaching staff tried to match their personnel to Connecticuts. Against the Deacs, the Heels were back to their free-roaming selves, running and diving after loose balls.
That effort on defense held the Deacs to 27.6 percent shooting for the game.
Our effort was really good, Wake Forest coach Mike Petersen said. We didnt make enough baskets.
UNCs strong start may have been a direct response to its slow start on Monday. The Heels also wanted to avoid the breakdown that followed last seasons debacle against the Huskies. After that lopsided loss, they dropped their next game to Virginia Tech, won three in a row, but then finished the season losing nine of their final 12 games.
Get back out there and get a win, Hatchell said. Just how they would bounce back from something like that.
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