CHAPEL HILL — Coach Sylvia Hatchell and her North Carolina team will try to make major womens basketball history Sunday.
And in a twist of fate, the Tar Heels most bitter rival will try to delay it.
Hatchell goes for her 900th career victory at 1 p.m. (ESPNU), when the No. 11 Tar Heels (20-2, 8-1 ACC) host No. 5 Duke (19-1, 9-0) at Carmichael Arena in a battle for first place in the ACC.
Hatchell, 899-316 in 38 seasons including her first 11 at Francis Marion, is the winningest active coach in womens basketball, two ahead of Rutgers Vivian Stringer. Only former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt (1,098) and former Texas coach Jody Conradt (exactly 900) have more wins.
Throw out the records, of course. This one is for all the proverbial marbles at least for a few days.
People are making a big deal about my 900th win, but its not about me, said the 60-year-old Hatchell, who led the Tar Heels to the 1994 NCAA title. Its about these kids having a tremendous college basketball experience. And there is not a better college basketball experience than playing in a Carolina-Duke game.
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie, whose career record is 476-181, marveled at the thought of 900 victories.
Nine hundred? said McCallie, whose team swept the two-game series last season for her first win in five tries in Chapel Hill. Thats a special thing. I wouldnt know anything about 900. Its a tremendous thing for any coach, the longevity that it represents. I couldnt possibly think of those numbers. My son thinks I could make it, though. Im glad Jack thinks that.
Beyond bragging rights, the game is also very important for this season.
The Tar Heels are still carrying chips on their collective shoulders from missing post-season play last year, and need to win to have a chance at the top seed in the ACC tournament after being picked fifth in preseason.
Tierra Ruffin-Pratt has played really well for us, and this is the first time shes been truly healthy (from shoulder problems) and thats made a big difference, Hatchell said.
Weve just got some kids that are warriors, they battle hard and love to compete. This group of kids has got tremendous chemistry. Krista Gross is one of the toughest kids weve ever had here whatever job we need her to do, shes a tough kid. And Waltiea (Rolle)s presence inside makes a difference.
And Duke, which has been eliminated in NCAA regional finals each of the past three seasons, needs a win to keep its hopes alive for a No. 1 regional seed in that event.
I just hope we can come out really aggressive defensively and offensively, McCallie said. Theres a tenacity piece that has to be there for us to play 40 minutes.
This is just the very best basketball rivalry there is. Each year I say the same thing, but its true my neighbors root against me. Bummer. Where else do you coach and your neighbors cheer for another team? I still talk to them though. Theyre nice neighbors. But only in this area could you get that.
Its the final home game against Duke for North Carolina seniors Ruffin-Pratt, Gross and Rolle.
This team has a lot more confidence than it had at the beginning of the season, and the freshmen have stepped up and been playing pretty well, said Ruffin-Pratt, who is from Alexandria, Va., and said Duke was in the final four on her recruiting list. You never really understand the rivalry until you come to North Carolina. Once youre a part of it, you see how intense it is. I think there are more emotions in that game.
Added Gross: It would be a great way to get her (Hatchells) 900th win, especially since Duke is so good this year and no one was expecting us to be as good as we are. The rivalry is intense. I love it. Theres no better atmosphere than playing against Duke.
Hatchell, 31-31 against Duke, has done a great job picking up milestone victories against Triangle rivals, as wins No. 500, 600, 700 and 800 have all come against N.C. State.
Duke players are licking their chops at a chance to delay their rivals celebration.
It means a lot to me personally, growing up and being a Duke fan and watching all the North Carolina-Duke games, said junior forward Haley Peters, who needed stitches in her upper lip during last years game in Chapel Hill after getting an elbow from then-North Carolina senior center Chay Shegog, who apologized after the game. In the two years Ive played in it, its been a memorable game every time.
Its always such a physical battle, and both teams get the most out of each other. I havent thought about (the elbow) too much, but I got knocked pretty good. Im looking forward to going back to Carmichael.
Added Duke senior point guard Chelsea Gray, Its a big in-state rival. Weve already played one team (N.C. State) in-conference from our state, so its a sense-of-pride thing. Were looking forward to it. Athletes live for moments like that, to be on the big stage and be successful.