MYRTLE BEACH — The holiday hoops season tipped off on Monday night as the No. 15 North Carolina women’s basketball team cruised past New Orleans 124-41 on Monday at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.
The 124 points are the most ever scored by the Tar Heels in a single game. North Carolina led 72-18 at halftime.
Six different players scored in the double digits for North Carolina, paced by Allisha Gray and Diamond DeShields at 20 points each.
“The toughest opponent we play all year is ourselves,” North Carolina associate head coach Andrew Calder said. “We did a lot of good things tonight, a lot of things I was impressed with. I thought we had a lot of good ball movement, shot the ball very well. On defense we were communicating very well. All we’re trying to do each day is get better, and I thought we got better today.”
The Privateers (0-9) were led by Octavia Wilson’s game-best 21 points.
The Tar Heels (9-2) are still without head coach Sylvia Hatchell, who took a leave of absence from the team in October after announcing she had been diagnosed with leukemia.
Calder, a longtime assistant, has been leading the team in Hatchell’s absence.
Hatchell, who has over 900 career wins and won national titles at Francis Marion and North Carolina, was released from the hospital in November and has since returned to the team in a limited role.
Calder said he does not expect Hatchell to be on the bench on Wednesday when the Tar Heels take on No. 10 South Carolina in the Carolinas Women’s College Challenge at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, but said the she is making great progress.
“She had a great report the other day from her doctors and it’s just a matter of finishing up her treatment now so that it does not return,” Calder said.
The game served as a tune-up on a couple of levels.
First for the Tar Heels (9-2), who will play the Gamecocks in a battle of Top 15 teams at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The event also features Coastal Carolina playing College of Charleston at 5 p.m.
It also gave Myrtle Beach Convention Center personnel an opportunity to work out kinks with the shot clock and markings on the baselines to help officials identify the low blocks with Wednesday’s doubleheader looming and the CresCom Bank Holiday Invitational and Beach Ball Classic high school tournaments on the horizon.
North Carolina has become a December fixture in Myrtle Beach, and the Tar Heels roster features a handful of players who played in the CresCom Holiday Invitational in the past, including McDaniel (Spring Valley), N’Dea Bryant (Goose Creek), and DeShields (Norcross, Ga.).
Assistant coach Ivory Latta (York), who also plays for the Washington Mystics of the WNBA, also played in the event.
“It feels good to come back,” said Latta, a former National Player of the Year and a two-time All-American. “To be on the other side as a coach is a little bit different, but at the same time I have great memories from this building, and it feels great to be back.”
Calder said the experiences in the event have kept the team coming back year after year.
“This tournament is just great; [Beach Ball Classic founder and Myrtle Beach Mayor] John Rhodes does a great job leading into [the high school tournaments], and we are so proud that he keeps inviting us back each year.”
Calder also said Hatchell has friends in the area and the annual trip is something of a return to her basketball roots.
“Coach Hatchell started this maybe 20 years ago,” Calder said. “She has always had a lot of respect for the area and the state of South Carolina since she coached here for so long.
“This gives us a chance to come down here each year and show her basketball team to the state of South Carolina and the people in the Myrtle Beach area.”