|Photo by Agatha Donkar @brandnewkindof|
OK, we can talk about that one now.
Tonight's game against Syracuse was a careening hootenanny and maybe the most fun I've ever had in Carmichael. The Orange came in fresh off a 36-point stomping of #12 Duke, and everyone in the arena was terrified that they might stage an encore performance in Chapel Hill. For most of the first half, those fears appeared to be well founded. 'Cuse raced out to a 10-0 lead in the first two minutes, powered by some excellent offensive movement and a murderous and unrelenting press. That stifling defense threw Carolina utterly out of sorts. There was a flurry of turnovers, a rash of bad decisions, and a sense of rhythm so poor it'd make my father blush. (Hi, Dad.)
The Heels eventually settled and started breaking that press a little more fluidly. They got some jumpers to fall and started finding each other with smart passes inside for points at the rim. Stephanie Watts uncorked a barrage of shots and assists that juuust kept UNC from going off the rails. Slowly, doggedly, they nudged themselves to within hailing distance. Syracuse lead 24-19 at the end of the first quarter, though it felt like it shouldn't have been that close. Carolina had too many turnovers and got murdered on the glass; how were they only down five? In the second quarter, the deficit fluctuated like a stock price based upon two market trends: hilariously disparate shooting percentages, and the efficacy of that press. It widened to twelve and shrunk back to six at the half, hitting seemingly every numerical point in between. The Heels were within arm's length, but Syracuse has some very tall, very wiry players, and those are some long damn arms.
The third quarter opened much like the first. It took Carolina nearly two minutes to score as they were once again beset by the hellish press. (Syracuse has a preposterously deep bench, which meant they could keep throwing fresh legs out there to maintain the pressure. This would be rough on any opponent, but particularly so on the Heels' short rotation.) And yet, Carolina simply refused to go away. Destinee Walker carried us through the middle of the third with some dazzling forays to the rim and a nice assist on a Steph trey. Finally, Syracuse ran out of gas and stopped running the press. With the court opened up, the Heels got some spring back in their collective step and started to look dialed in for the first time all night. It was 58-52 'Cuse at the end of the quarter.
And good lord, what a barn burner the 4th wound up being; everybody just doin' work, y'all. Steph sunk a layup to cut the Orange lead to four, and Syracuse missed the potential answering shot. The dynamics of the game were finally tilting in Carolina's favor, and the crowd's internal dial was moving towards turnt. As she has been all season, Jamie Cherry was the engine down the stretch. She snagged a rebound, then drew a foul and canned both freebies. 58-56. A few traded baskets, then Steph grabbed a board and fed Des for a layup to tie the game at 62. Carmichael absolutely exploded. This game had felt so impossible since the opening tip; somehow the ladies had fought back to even and they were all swagger and focus now. Syracuse pushed their lead back to three; Jamie sank two more at the stripe. Finally, Des took it to the rack to give the Heels their first lead at 66-65 with four minutes left. Both teams played some chaotic but inspired basketball for a stretch and wound up tied at 69. Then, with 1:40 to play, Jamie buried a jumper to give us the lead for good. She dished to Hillary Summers to widen the lead to four, then sank two more free throws to keep it there. A late jumper from Syracuse's Alexis Peterson cut it back to two, but with too little left on the clock. Steph iced the thing down with a pair from the line to cement the final: 77-73 Carolina. This was an insane, nerve-wracking jangle of a game, but absolutely worth it for that beautiful finish.
1. There's a lady somewhere in our section who screams "GET OFF THE COURT, COACH!!!" or some variation thereon every time an opposing coach dares set foot outside of the blue sideline box in Carmichael. Every time. At peak volume. I am convinced that the only thing this person knows about basketball is that coaches are not allowed to be on the court during play, and it gets very annoying to hear her devout adherence to that rule signified very loudly several times a game. That said, I was completely on her side tonight. Look, I'm sure Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman is a perfectly nice human, but dude was on the floor virtually the entire game. Very visibly and obviously in a way that should've gotten him T'd up or at least a stern warning from the refs. Like, if you brought him out a Barcalounger and set it on the court, he'd be perfectly content to kick back and bark play calls and rotations at his team and never move even if he were actually disrupting the game play. Sir, please keep your ass off the court when the ball is live.
2. ACC officiating is terrible. This was the second game in a row, and the fourth this season, where way too many stupid, awful calls have gone against both teams at Carmichael. Seriously, y'all can do better than this.
3. Whoever was running the P.A. tonight clearly thought it was my junior prom all over again. Heard over the course of the game: "Tubthumping", "Mambo Number Five", and "Macarena." The latter was responsible for the funniest thing I saw all evening. The track played during half time, and there were a few Carolina cheerleaders over by the bleachers gamely trying to suss out the correct order of the choreography of that stupid dance. Please keep in mind, "Macarena" was released in 1993, meaning the kids attempting those dance moves were maybe not born and definitely not potty trained when it was popular. Why is this a phenomenon that has insidiously found its way to a younger generation? We have failed as a species, that's why.
4. Steph was your player of the game. 22 points, 8 assists, 10 rebounds, and a block. Get it, girl.
Next up: Saturday @ #3 Notre Dame. Go Heels.