There’s extra incentive for North Carolina to make the women’s Final Four.
If the No. 12 Tar Heels win their next two games, coach Sylvia Hatchell might be on the sideline for the first time all season.
“When the team goes to the Final Four in Nashville, Dr. (Pete) Voorhees said it is ‘very doable.’ ” said Hatchell, who has been away from the bench area – although sometimes in an elevated box at Carmichael Arena – all season while she has undergone treatment for leukemia.
“I told (the team) ‘When we get there, I’ll sing and dance with you on the table.’ ”
Hatchell said Thursday her doctor promised to have her at 100 percent when the 2014-15 season starts.
“I hope I look pretty good because I feel pretty good,” said Hatchell, who still generally wears a medical mask but removes it for speeches and TV interviews. “I’m actually doing fantastic. I’ve come a long way and am at the end of this journey. We’re waiting on my immune system to do one of the most favorite words I ever say, and that’s ‘rebound.’ ”
UNC (26-9) beat Michigan State 62-53 in the second round Tuesday at Carmichael Arena to become the only Triangle basketball team to make a Sweet 16, after surviving a 60-58 squeaker against little Tennessee Martin in the first round. The Tar Heels have the No. 4 seed in the Stanford Region.
They’ll take on No. 1 seed South Carolina (29-4), a team they beat 74-66 during their annual trip to Myrtle Beach on Dec. 18, on Sunday at 6:30 p.m.
Stanford (31-3) has the No. 2 seed and Penn State (24-7) the No. 3 in the region, the only one in which the top four seeds are still alive. Defending champion and top-ranked Connecticut (36-0) will likely be waiting for the survivor in the national semifinals.
Long-time associate head coach Andrew Calder has been handling sideline duties in Hatchell’s stead.
“That’s fantastic news,” he said of the possibility of her return. “That would just be the greatest thing right there. However, we have to beat South Carolina (and the next opponent).”
Hatchell took time to chide the Women’s Basketball Coaches’ Association for not placing Diamon DeShields, the Tar Heels’ ACC Freshman of the Year, on the seven-player all-region II team. Hatchell said she has been making calls to try to get DeShields onto the All-America ballot.
N.C. State’s Markeisha Gatling, Duke’s Tricia Liston and Wake Forest’s Dearica Hamby were named all-region along with Maryland’s Alyssa Thomas, Florida State’s Natasha Howard, and Jewell Loyd and Kayla McBride from Notre Dame.
“It’s always good to see coach Hatchell,” said DeShields, who averages 18.1 points and 5.5 rebounds. “It puts us in a better mood and reminds us of our purpose and what we’re playing for as far as motivation goes. She just reminds us that she’s still here and still pushing for us.
“It’s been a motivation all season – winning means one step closer to her coming back. That’s been the mindset all season, but we see the light at the end of the tunnel now. ”
Freshman sharpshooter Allisha Gray (14.0, 5.5) said she’s hoping to play games this season with Hatchell on the bench.
“It’s very exciting knowing that she can be close to us again and hugging us and stuff,” Gray said. “It’s a very exciting moment. I know it’s special to her too, all season not being on the bench with us.”
Sophomore forward Xylina McDaniel (11.6, 5.8) is one of three South Carolinians on the roster along with junior guard Latifah Coleman and sophomore guard N’Dea Bryant.
“(Calder) has been behind the scenes for 28 years. He’s very smart and knows what he’s talking about. It’s been hard because he gives you that tough love and coach Hatchell is like a motherly figure. He’s had to soften up some. It’s been fun. A long, but a great journey.