CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said she’s always concerned about her team’s performance after a big emotional game like the win against Maryland on Thursday night.
When the Tar Heels took the floor against much-improved Virginia Tech on Sunday, her concerns were well-founded.
But they were able to grind their way through it.
Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and Xylina McDaniel scored 14 points apiece as No. 15 North Carolina held off the Hokies 48-45 at Carmichael Arena.
The 48 points were the fewest a UNC women’s basketball team has ever scored in a win.
The Tar Heels (15-1, 3-0) are 3-0 in the ACC for the first time since 2009.
“It’s exciting and fun to be 15-1 and 3-0 in the league,” said Hatchell, whose team had a devastating home loss to Clemson last season four days after an overtime loss at home against Maryland. “We know we can play better than we are.
“But I don’t want to take anything away from Virginia Tech. They’re physical and their defense is very good. They played hard, and they’re going to be really hard to play against the rest of the season.
“I thought in the first half we were still celebrating the Maryland win, because we just didn’t play well the first 14-15 minutes before we finally got some things going.”
Uju Ugoka, a Nigerian junior college transfer from Gulf Coast (Fla.) State who was playing her fourth game as a Hokie, led her team with 15 points and Monet Tellier added 12.
“We had a chance,” said Virginia Tech’s second-year coach Dennis Wolff, whose team went 7-23 last season. “We got a good shot, missed it, had to foul and got a little discombobulated on the last play where we were trying to shoot a 3.
“But I’m really proud of the effort these girls have given the whole season. Since Uju has joined the team we’ve been very competitive in every game. Carolina’s got a real good team and they’re well-coached. We just didn’t have enough at the end.”
The result wasn’t decided until the Hokies (7-7, 1-2) couldn’t get the ball into position to attempt a 3-pointer on an inbounds play with 0.4 seconds left.
The score was tied twice early in the second half, the last time at 26 on two free throws from the Hokies’ Taijah Campbell with 18 minutes, 1 second to play.
UNC responded with a 12-3 run ending in two Megan Buckland free throws to make it 38-29 with 9:49 left.
The Tar Heels were up 44-34 on a Buckland layup with 6:10 to go.
The Hokies kept clawing, cutting the difference to two twice – the last time on Alyssa Fenyn’s two free throws to make it 47-45 with 60 seconds left.
After Ugoka missed on a chance to tie, Ruffin-Pratt hit the second of two free throws with 10 seconds remaining to complete the scoring.
“We just started off slow,” Ruffin-Pratt said. “Shots weren’t falling, even ones around the basket. We weren’t really going as hard as we could, but we picked it up better in the second half.
“Halftime changed it. We had more intensity and rebounded better in the second half.”
North Carolina shot 33.3 percent for the game to the Hokies’ 41.9, but won the rebound battle 32-29 and committed 20 turnovers to the visitors’ 24.
The score was tied 22-22 at halftime after the Tar Heels stormed back from a nine-point deficit.
“I’m a lot more comfortable than I was in November,” freshman McDaniel said, “playing anybody we have to go against. At the end of the day, they’re going to be who they are and we’ve just got to play our game.”
The No. 25 jersey of former Tar Heels forward Kathy Crawford (1983) was honored during a halftime ceremony.