No. 3 North Carolina wins on Grand Strand
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP)—Rashanda McCants hadn’t ever felt that scared on the basketball court.
North Carolina’s junior star was face down, blood coming out of a cut on her forehead, late in Monday night’s win at Coastal Carolina. “I’ve never had an incident where I’ve bled like that before, so it was kind of scary for me,” McCants said. “But it made me stronger.”
McCants, wearing a headband to cover her two stitches, showed that Thursday night. She had 19 points to lead No. 3 North Carolina (12-1) to a 93-60 victory over Western Kentucky (6-5).
Tar Heels coach Sylvia Hatchell figured McCants would play just as hard as always. “She’s tough,” Hatchell said. “That’s her.”
McCants had five points during a 14-6 first-half run that put North Carolina ahead 31-20. She later added a jumper and a 3-pointer as the Tar Heels went on a 10-2 run to start the second half and grab a 53-30 lead.
Then after Western Kentucky cut things to 55-42 on Kenzie Rich’s second straight 3-pointer, McCants scored the next seven points to regain control for the Tar Heels.
North Carolina won its eighth consecutive game in this beach resort and improved to 20-4 on the Grand Strand.
Cyrstal Kelly led Western Kentucky with 18 points and became the Lady Toppers’ all-time leading scorer. Kelly surpassed the 2,262 points of Lillie Mason, who played at Western from 1982-86. Kelly is just 18 points shy of setting the Sun Belt Conference’s career mark held by South Alabama’s Adrian Vickers.
“It’s an honor,” Kelly said. “But it would feel better if I did it with a win.”
Four of the Lady Toppers five losses have come against ranked teams.
North Carolina has played at the Grand Strand each season since 1994 and hasn’t lost at this beach resort since 2001. Besides the shopping and a break after exams, the annual trip is a chance for the Tar Heels to display their star-studded program to a swooning group of potential prospects on hand for a holiday prep tournament.
This one was no different. There were shrieks at North Carolina’s introductions. When McCants spun past Rich for a layup, there were loud “Oohs” from the convention center crowd.
Even ex-North Carolina star Ivory Latta—a South Carolina native—couldn’t stay away. The energetic WNBA guard was on a break from her pro team in Israel and on hand to watch her old teammates.
“Undefeated,” McCants said smiling after reminded she hadn’t lost here.
“There’s a lot for us to do, friends to see,” McCants continued. “We like it.”
Cetera DeGraffenreid had 16 points and six assists for North Carolina. Erlana Larkins added 13 points.
When the Tar Heels couldn’t get going at first on offense, they let their defense handle things.
Western Kentucky hit its first two shots, then went 1-of-12 over the next seven minutes as North Carolina took the lead.
LaToya Pringle and Jessica Breland had two buckets each to put the Tar Heels ahead 14-6. McCants had consecutive jumpers, and Rebecca Gray a 3-pointer to make it 26-16.
Hatchell was pleased how her team turned things up in the second half. What worries her, though, is the Tar Heels play only once more (Dec. 30 against Liberty) before opening the Atlantic Coast Conference season against Georgia Tech on Jan. 5.
“We just need to play,” Hatchell said.