By Lauren Brownlow
Sylvia Hatchell is known to be a little more tolerant of turnovers than most coaches. She wants her teams to play fast, and she knows that her young team was going to turn the ball over as they learn. After her team committed 35 in a win over No. 25 Georgetown, though, she admitted it was a concern. "I don't want to stop fast-breaking, but we've just got to make a little better decisions, take a little better care of the basketball," Hatchell said.
In the the first half, things were really getting ridiculous. In 51 possessions (calculated using the Dean Smith methodology), her team took 25 shots and had 21 turnovers for a 41.2% loss of ball. In one stretch, Carolina had four turnovers in a little over 30 seconds without taking a shot.
"We're so used to playing so fast that we needed to slow down," Tierra Ruffin-Pratt said. "We were trying to push, push, push when we needed to step back and set up. This team was athletic and we haven't really played any athletic teams, so we had to use more fakes and be more patient."
Carolina started taking care of the ball in the second half, though, and cut that loss of ball down to 35.4% (29.2% in the second half). But to put that in perspective, the highest number Roy Williams' team has put up in the last five years is 28.3% loss of ball in a 91-64 loss at Clemson in 2010. Carolina had 26 turnovers in that game.
But the biggest difference was Carolina defending well the entire game. Georgetown made just one of its first 20 shot attempts, and their star player Sugar Rodgers was visibly frustrated all night long. She had 22 points, but took 24 shots to get there, and even picked up a technical foul late in the game.
Turnover after turnover after turnover, and her young team never let their frustration show one bit. Sometimes, they'd huddle together during dead balls and talk about what went wrong on a play, but there was never any yelling or finger-pointing. They just made plays.
Sophomore Brittany Rountree or redshirt freshman Megan Buckland would hit a big three-pointer (the two combined to make 9-of-21, helping combat Georgetown's sagged-in zone). Senior Krista Gross - who ended the night with a career-high 15 rebounds and a swollen eye to show for her efforts - would dive on the floor for a loose ball. Freshman Xylina McDaniel, who fouled out of Carolina's game on Sunday, would get a tough rebound in traffic (she finished with ten boards).
Hatchell's patience was starting to wear thin with some of the sillier turnovers. She was on the sideline "going crazy", as she put it, and it was her team that calmed her down. "This group is pretty mentally tough. That's what I like about them. They don't get rattled about things.
"Oh, 35 turnovers? I'm over there going crazy and they're just like, 'Hey, hey, we've got it.' I really enjoy this group. This is a fun group to be around and a fun group to coach, and the fact that we're going to continue to battle hard and get better."
It's not pretty right now, and it may not be for awhile. The only constant the Tar Heels will have, though, is their defense. Hatchell loves to switch things up defensively to confuse opponents with different looks. Some of the concepts are complex, but this team has bought into it. And they need to - they'll have to win games with defense, at least for now.
"We can cut those turnovers down and get our score up a little bit more, but I was really proud of our defense," Hatchell said. "It's early, so most everybody's defense is ahead of their offense right now. We've just got to keep working and knocking down some shots."