Injuries take toll on UNC women

erobinson@newsobserver.comJanuary 16, 2012 

Only twice this season has the North Carolina women's basketball team dressed 11 or more players for a game.

Injuries have shortened the bench for the No. 22 Tar Heels (12-4, 2-2), a team that traditionally has rotated a long roster of players to pull off its fast-break style.

Without a consistent lineup, they have experienced a topsy-turvy start to the ACC schedule and are attempting to make adjustments midway through the season after an upset loss to Clemson last week.

Today the Heels travel to Storrs, Conn., where they face No. 3 UConn (14-2, 4-1 Big East) at Gampel Pavilion. They have lost four games in row to the Huskies and will need a healthy roster and more to pull out an upset on their opponent's home court.

"I've never had injuries like we've had this year," UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "It just seems like as soon as we get one or two back out there, something else happens."

Since the season opened Nov. 12, the Heels have lost two players for the season: sophomore guard Latifah Coleman and freshman guard Megan Buckland both tore ACLs in their knees and had recent surgery.

Others have been injured and worked back into the lineup. Freshman Whitney Adams missed the first three games after injuring her shoulder during preseason practice. She wears a shoulder brace and will have surgery after the season.

Senior guard She'la White missed two games after spraining her ankle against Miami on Jan. 2. She returned against Clemson on Thursday.

Freshman guard Shannon Smith returned from a hamstring injury against Penn State on Nov. 30 but only recently has fully recovered.

Starter Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, a junior guard, returned against Virginia on Jan. 5 after missing 13 games recovering from shoulder surgery last summer.

Junior center Waltiea Rolle enrolled for the spring semester and played in her first game Dec. 29 against Savannah State. She missed the fall semester to give birth to her daughter Nov. 8.

Senior forward Laura Broomfield suffered a stress reaction in her foot and missed two games against Presbyterian and Kennesaw State. She returned against Penn State only to miss the second half with leg cramps.

Against Maryland on Jan. 8, Broomfield was raked across the eye during a fast break and forced to the bench in the second half. She returned against Clemson wearing dark, tinted goggles to protect her irritated, swollen eye.

With a bench whittled to six healthy players at one point, Hatchell activated team manager Melanique DVeaux. She practiced with the team but took an elbow to the face and suffered a broken nose.

All of the injuries, Hatchell said, took a toll on the team, forcing the Heels to limit their options and use players out of position.

"It's exciting what we could be," said Hatchell, whose team dressed 11 healthy players against Clemson.

Still, the Heels looked out of sync for much of that game and shot just 28.8 percent from the field and were 1-for-17 from 3-point range.

The Tigers held in check UNC senior center Chay Shegog, the ACC's leading scorer, who's averaging 17.9 points per game.

"We have to have some people knock those shots down and spread the defense out," Hatchell said.

The Heels last defeated UConn on Jan. 15, 2007, with an 82-76 victory at Carmichael Arena. They will need to find more cohesion, particularly on offense, if they expect to defeat the Huskies this time.

"We just have to come together," Shegog said. "We can't fall apart. We're going to go through a lot of stuff this season - we've already gone through a lot - it's just up to us to stick together."

Robinson: 919-829-4781

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