North Carolina has ended Purdue's NCAA tournament run in two of the last three seasons, but if the third-seeded Tar Heels don't improve on Saturday's lackluster first-round performance, the Boilermakers may have a chance to return the favor.
After squandering most of a 14-point lead in the final minute in its opener, No. 11 North Carolina hopes for a more definitive victory Monday night in Chattanooga, where the winner will advance to the Oklahoma City Regional semifinals.With two weeks between the Tar Heels' loss to Maryland in the ACC tournament semifinals and their NCAA tournament opener, coach Sylvia Hatchell had concerns that the team would be rusty, and even scheduled a non-league game against South Dakota last Sunday.Hatchell's concerns turned out to be well founded, as North Carolina struggled to an uncomfortably close 85-80 win over 14th-seeded UCF despite holding a 14-point lead with 33 seconds left."If we had not played (South Dakota), we might've lost today," Hatchell said. "... A lot of times you're rusty playing this first game because you've had such a long layoff. I think that game made us realize a sense of urgency a little more."Playing without a top seed for the first time since 2004, the Tar Heels (28-6) allowed 80 points for the fourth time this season and needed a season-high 17 points off the bench from hot-shooting Heather Claytor, who had been sparsely used coming into the contest having totaled two points in her previous 10 games."You have to be ready every game," Claytor said. "I think it just means that there will be games where certain people don't step up and others have to. If one person doesn't have their usual night, other people will."Jessica Breland and Italee Lucas also had 17 points each for North Carolina, but leading scorer Rashanda McCants was held to five points on 1-of-9 shooting and briefly left with an injury in the second half before returning.The Tar Heels may need more from McCants if they hope to advance to at least the regional finals for the fifth straight season.They beat Purdue en route to Final Four trips in both 2006 and 2007, including an 84-72 win over the Boilermakers in the 2007 Dallas Regional final.North Carolina also won 90-72 on Nov. 29, 2007 to improve to 4-1 all-time in the series, which includes meetings in the 1994 and 1999 NCAA tournaments."It seems like it's always that way," Purdue coach Sharon Versyp said. "I guess they enjoy seeing both programs, if it's possible, if both can advance to go head to head."While North Carolina has more offensive firepower, averaging 83.1 points, Purdue has been stout defensively, with opponents scoring 53.5 points per game since the beginning of February.The Boilermakers (23-10) beat Charlotte 65-52 on Saturday for their 12th consecutive first-round victory. Purdue has been in the NCAA tournament field in 16 straight seasons, and all five of their starters are juniors or seniors."When you have been here before, it helps," Purdue senior forward Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton said. "You've been here and you're experienced. Every team at that first game, your nerves kind of get to you and you kind of work out the kinks as this tournament goes on. We're going to get more and more confident."Wisdom-Hylton leads a balanced Purdue offense that features six players averaging between 7.7 and 13.0 points. All of them had at least eight against Charlotte.