"I think mentally we were really ready to play," said Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb after the game. "We had three really good practices after finals, and then we came out and got some great shots, beat their press, easy buckets."
For a few more minutes, the teams battled toe-to-toe, and at the first media timeout, Vanderbilt held a slim lead at 9-8.
Then after the time out, the UNC picked up their defensive pressure and reeled off a 13-0 run until a layup by Liz Sherwood finally broke Vanderbilt's five-minute scoring drought. "Their pressure got us on our heels, and we didn't react well to it," Balcomb said, "and we were on our heels the rest of the night."
After falling into that early hole, against UNC's relentless defensive pressure, the Commodores were never able to climb out of it. As the first half progressed, the Tar Heels continued to pull gradually away, and by the end of the half, they held a 47-28 halftime lead.
Deep into the second half, after falling behind by as much as 33 points, the Commodores finally began to make a run to trim the final margin to 20 points at 87-67.
"The hardest we played was the last seven or eight minutes of the game," Balcomb said. "You call a timeout and say, 'This is for pride; you play hard and you don't quit.'"
The team finally responded. "I've got great kids, and they're not going to walk out of here without making a run, and we did," said Balcomb. "I just wish that we could have made the adjustments earlier in the game in the first half."
Point guard Ivory Latta, UNC's Player of the Year candidate, was a thorn in Vanderbilt's side all night long. Her 17 points in the first half were a major factor in North Carolina's ability to pull away early in the game.
"In the pregame talk I usually put up on the board the scouting report -- what they do well and what we have to take away," Balcomb said. "With her, I almost said I'm going to put up what she doesn't do well, and it'd be empty because there's too much to put up that she does well."
Latta finished the game with 22 points, including four 3-pointers, and eight assists. "We just wanted to contain her, and I think we made the mistake of not being aggressive enough," said Balcomb. "The problem is that if you trap her - and a lot of people do that - is that she kills you because then they've got numbers, and she'll pick you apart."
One bright spot for Vanderbilt was the first appearance of the season for freshman Jen Risper, a 5-9 guard from Moreno Valley, California. Risper, who tore her ACL shortly after arriving at Vanderbilt this summer, had surgery on August 2 and was recently cleared for full contact practice.
Risper played 17 minutes, scoring the first points of her Vanderbilt career on a driving layup in the first half. She finished the game with three rebounds and six points, including a perfect four-for-four from the free throw line.
"She played very aggressive defensively," Balcomb said, "and it was great to get her that many minutes."
The Commodores continue their road trip with a game at LaSalle on Thursday afternoon. Following that game, they'll have a break for the Christmas holidays before hosting William & Mary on December 30.
North Carolina's Jessica Sell, right, tries to keep the ball away from Vanderbilt's Christina Wirth (34) as they both struggle for the ball during an NCAA basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2005, in Myrtle Beach, S.C. (AP Photo/Willis Glassgow)