By Megan Walsh, GoHeels.com
CHAPEL HILL --- With North Carolina's biggest rivalry game of the season slated for Sunday, the Tar Heels never lost sight of the task at hand Thursday night against Florida State.
No. 11 North Carolina's 72-62 win over the No. 20 Seminoles pushed UNC to 20 wins in January for the first time in six years. It also set head coach Sylvia Hatchell up for a go at 900 wins Sunday against Duke at Carmichael Arena.
"I don't know why it was set up like it is," Hatchell said. "The good Lord only knows that, why it was set up like it was. If we win, that will be great and if we don't, we'll learn from it and move on. I don't know if it could be any better than to win it here at home Sunday against Duke."
But the way the Tar Heels (20-2, 8-1 ACC) played against the Seminoles (17-4, 7-3 ACC) Thursday proved there might be some truth to the typical ‘one game at a time' coach speak.
Senior center Waltiea Rolle powered her way to 14 points in the first half, leading the Tar Heels to a 38-24 edge at the break. All in all, UNC shot 58.1 percent in the first half, successfully playing the fast break and scoring in transition.
"At halftime, that was the biggest thing I told them," Hatchell said. "I said, ‘Look, this is a false sense of security now. This team will come storming back cause they can flat out score. They have a lot of offensive players.'
"Well, that's exactly what happened. We had to really do a lot of things out there defensively to stop some of the things that they were doing, and what we did worked."
Florida State's aggressive offense pushed back and eventually took a 53-52 lead with nine minutes remaining in the game. Then the Tar Heels fought back.
Rolle's performance sent her to a double-double on the night with 18 points and 10 rebounds, but the second half was all freshman forward Xylina McDaniel.
"Honestly I don't know what came over me," McDaniel said. "I think I might have made one good one and then I was like, ‘Oh, shoot, you've got to start doing something now. I feed off my teammates, so if one of us is down then someone has to pick up the slack. When I was down, Waltiea was picking up the slack, so when someone else is down, I have to pick it up."
That same attitude is the reason Hatchell pointed to North Carolina's chemistry as being the team's focal point thus far this season.
McDaniel finished the night with 19 points - 15 of which came in the second half - and six boards, while Brittany Rountree and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt also scored in double figures, 12 and 10 points, respectively.
"Win or lose, they're really enjoying each other and working really hard," Hatchell said. "We've improved a lot. If you watched us from the beginning until now, we've really gotten better. And we'll continue to get better because we're going to start making more foul shots. It's a special group."
And that special group now has yet another top-25 win underneath its belt. As the season only gets tougher from here on out, games like the Tar Heels' outing against the Seminoles will be great experiences for the team moving forward.
"We've got a lot of tough games coming up," Hatchell said, "and we're looking forward to playing Duke here on Sunday."