GREENSBORO, N.C. --- North Carolina joined the list of favorites relieved to overcome underdogs on Friday at the 2013 ACC Women's Basketball Championship to advance to the semifinals.
The Tar Heels clinched their spot in the semifinals with a 62-57 victory against undersized and 11th-seeded Boston College in Friday's final quarterfinal game. Point guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt drove her way to 19 points - 11 of them on free throws - and handed out six assists as North Carolina prevailed.
The Heels (27-5) advanced to Saturday's semifinals against No. 2 Maryland, which needed overtime to dispatch 10th-seeded Wake Forest. The other semifinalists, Florida State and Duke, also had serious challenges from their opponents.
"It's competitive - regardless of how you're ranked," North Carolina forward Krista Gross said. "And it's tournament time. Hey, everything that happened in the regular season is irrelevant how. You show up to play your hardest every game because you never know when it's going to be your last. Rankings? Whatever. No one wants to go home."
The Eagles' four-guard lineup remained competitive while shooting 8-of-34 inside the 3-point line. They did it by going 10-of-25 from downtown and by forcing 21 Tar Heel turnovers, but they fell short against a team that had enough versatility to thwart their final chance to tie the game with the use of a 6-foot-6 center beyond the top of the key.
That opportunity came with a little more than a minute left and North Carolina up three. The Heels gummed up the possession with a defensive set as unique as the Eagles' appearance. Coach Sylvia Hatchell, recognizing BC's extreme reliance on the long ball, put versatile post player Waltiea Rolle out on Kerri Shields, the 3-point specialist who ultimately had no choice but to launch a 27-footer that hit the front of the rim.
"Waltiea can play perimeter defense, and she doesn't have to get too close to you because she has such long arms," Hatchell said.
Ruffin-Pratt, a deft ball-handler who has no problem initiating contact and the strength to finish when fouled, then picked the right moment for the evening's biggest basket. Her runner in traffic with 39 seconds to play made it a five-point game and put the Eagles in dire straits.
"How many times did Tierra Ruffin-Pratt just drive by us, lower her shoulder and get the call because she's a great player?" Eagles coach Erik Johnson said.
It's hard enough to make 3-pointers against the Tar Heels under conventional circumstances and even more arduous when the long ball is your only option. The Eagles were unable to keep the magic going, and the Heels moved on to the semifinals for the 10th time in the past 12 years.
"We stay together," Gross said. "We have good chemistry going, and we trust each other. I trust Ruffin-Pratt to make that shot or get that foul. That's what keeps us going in close games."