By Megan Walsh, GoHeels.com
Last season, head coach Sylvia Hatchell thought she was lucky if the Tar Heels hit more than 80 possessions in one game. With a host of injuries and an ever-evolving lineup, the women's team was held to very basic basketball.
But this year, North Carolina is far from boring. As the Tar Heels prepare for the Preseason WNIT that begins Friday, when UNC plays Davidson at 5 p.m. in Carmichael Arena, Hatchell really likes what she's seeing.
"We've got bodies, and we're more athletic," Hatchell said. "We've got more stability in positions and what we can do. With all the injuries last year and moving people around we had to stay very, very basic. We couldn't do a lot of the traps and rotations and jump defenses.
"We just couldn't play like we wanted to play, to keep people out of their comfort zones and surprise elements and stuff like that."
Playing at a new clip, the Tar Heels averaged 120 possessions in their opening two exhibition games last week. With a quick tempo and a more aggressive offense, this team is full of surprises, said Hatchell.
"We're fast," senior point guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt said. "We're athletic and able to get up and down the court a lot quicker than we have been since I've been here. It's one of the fastest teams I've been on. It's better for us. It's less of a set-up game and more of a running game."
"It's going really well because we've got people in different positions," Gross said. "We've got (Tierra) as a point guard leader, then we've got Waltiea in the post and then I'm a wing guard, so we've got every position covered with leadership."
Freshman forward Xylina McDaniel pointed to that leadership as the biggest aid to her adjustment to college play so far, as well as UNC's trip to Europe this summer. McDaniel, who Hatchell calls 'The Beast,' and sophomore guard Brittany Rountree are likely to complement the three seniors in the starting lineup this weekend.
"We are a pretty young team, but the upperclassmen have helped us so much from the summer until now, so we're adjusting pretty well," McDaniel said. "Playing in Europe helped a lot. We got to get a feel for each other outside of practice in a real game situation. We saw what the competition would sort of look like on a higher level and we just got a head start on everyone else."
And that head start will be put to good use in the Preseason WNIT Tournament. The Tar Heels last played in the tournament four years ago and won it, which Hatchell called a "tremendous experience." With a tough first-round matchup in Davidson this year, the Tar Heels will be tested right off the bat.
"It should be a really good game," Hatchell said. "They were the best in the (Southern Conference) last year and were preseason picked number one. They've got a big girl, they've got a shooter, they've got a point guard, they've got experience. They're going to have a really good team."