A less memorable Tar Heel win followed DeShields' career-high game in Raleigh, but Thursday's women's basketball game against Virginia illustrated the 11th ranked team's true potential. DeShields was held scoreless in the first half of play. She finished in double digits, but so did four other teammates. Fellow freshman Allisha Gray contributed 18 points while Stephanie Mavunga showed her ability to hit the boards and secured her 11th double-double of the year-a freshman conference high. Sophomore N'Dea Bryant was a perfect 5-5 from the floor and finished with 10 points.
Tar Heel head coach Sylvia Hatchell credits the team's depth for much of its success. Injuries, foul trouble, or an off-game by the team's leading scorer do not paralyze this Tar Heel squad. "It gives the players confidence," said Hatchell.
Because many new names grace this team's roster, solidifying the starting lineup and finding the right rotations have been a work in progress. In the 28 games played this season, there have been 11 unique starting lineups and ten players on the 13-person roster have started at least one game. Hatchell said, "We have a lot of pieces of the puzzle to fit in, so we've tried a lot of different things."
Minutes have been well-dispersed among the Heels this season. Seven players average between 20-26 minutes per game. The team's depth and versatility promote healthy competition among the team as playing time must be well earned.
The college game is new territory for the freshman players and, as their comfort level with the high level of play has progressed, so have their minutes. "We knew they'd need time to get used to the college game because it's a different level," said Hatchell.
Most of the time, it is easy to forget that the team consists of so many young players. Three of the top four scorers are freshmen and the fourth, Xylina McDaniel, is a sophomore. They have no seniors. On Sunday, the Tar Heels were upset by Virginia Tech in Carmichael. Associate head coach Andrew Calder is not willing to blame youth on the team's loss. "We're not going to use an excuse that we're young," he said. "We're talented. We should've played better than we did."
A missed three-pointer by DeShields at the end of regulation prevented the Heels from extending the game into overtime, but it was a fitting end to an abysmal shooting day for the Tar Heels. They shot 27 percent from the field and were 1-18 from behind the arc.
While the freshmen continue to gain experience and adjust to the college game, Hatchell has been forced to make personal adjustments. After 28 years at the helm, she finds herself in unchartered territory. But cancer cannot keep Hatchell away.
When she's not able to attend practices, modern technology has allowed practice to come to her. She gets daily reports and is in constant communication with her players and staff. Although she is deeply involved, she has the utmost confidence in her staff's ability to carry on in her absence. Hatchell's contributions to the team stem from her love and passion for the game, not out of obligation or necessity. What Hatchell as experienced with Calder and the coaching staff is what she loves to see from her players. "It's a perfect example of teamwork."
The Tar Heels will need teamwork going into the last regular season games. On Thursday, the Heels travel to South Bend, Indiana to try to do what 23 other teams haven't been able to do-beat undefeated No. 2 Notre Dame. They'll end the season in Carmichael against No. 7 Duke and the Heels hope for continued improvement before heading into postseason play.