CONWAY — When Alan LeForce was the men’s basketball coach and athletic director at College of Charleston way back in the 1970s and Sylvia Hatchell was young in her career and coaching the women’s team at Francis Marion, LeForce tried to lure her away. He thought she’d be a great hire for his school, and she surely would have been.
But Hatchell chose to stay put at the time before eventually settling in at North Carolina, where she’s now in her 27th season leading the perennial contender she’s built there. All the while, though, she and LeForce have remained friends.
And so with LeForce’s Coastal Carolina women’s basketball program debuting its new arena this season, Hatchell agreed to bring her No. 19-ranked Tar Heels to Conway on Sunday to see The HTC Center first-hand and give the Chanticleers one of the more notable home games in program history.
Not to mention an immense challenge.
“North Carolina is North Carolina,” LeForce said. “Here’s the thing about North Carolina. When they play people, they’re a high-major. Teams at our level are a mid- to low-major, and a lot of times [their opponents] are beat before they go on the floor. They say, ‘Oh, here comes North Carolina.’ I don’t think our players will feel that way. I’ve got a lot of confidence in our players.”
The Coastal women are off to a 6-2 start and are 5-0 at home this season, but of course, they haven’t seen a team comparable to the Tar Heels (9-1).
After his Chants rolled to a 70-43 win over Division II Converse on Thursday night, LeForce acknowledged his team would have to play far better Sunday to have a chance against North Carolina.
The Tar Heels are led by 5-foot-10 senior guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (13.3 points per game), 6-foot senior forward Krista Gross (6.5 points and 10.8 rebounds per game) and 6-foot-6 senior center Waltiea Rolle (13.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game).
“Here’s what they do to people like us -- they press you, double-team you, they do a lot of scrambling and want to make you make mistakes,” LeForce said. “We’ve had some people in our league play them, we’ve looked at five or six films and that’s the way they play.”
This is actually the third time North Carolina has played at Coastal as Hatchell also brought her squad to campus during the 1992-93 and 2007-08 seasons. The Tar Heels are 14-0 all-time in the series with the Chants, including a 93-37 win two seasons ago in Chapel Hill, N.C., when the programs last met.
College athletes so often have their own perspective on such matters, though, and junior guard Angelica Henry said the Chants are indeed heading into this matchup with confidence.
“It’s very exciting. I think our team is pretty much prepared, ready for them,” she said.
That’s the attitude LeForce wants his players to take onto the court Sunday. And from there, well, they’ll just see how it goes.
“We’ve just got to go out and play good basketball,” he said. “Just play good, fundamental, sound basketball and believe we have a chance.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.