No. 12 North Carolina beats UNLV 78-66
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) – North Carolina forward Jessica Breland is starting to look like her old self again.
The fifth-year senior played a season-high 28 minutes and scored more points, 24, than she had in any game in two years Sunday in No. 12 North Carolina’s 78-66 victory over UNLV.
Breland was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in June 2009, and she underwent chemotherapy that caused her to miss all last season.
Her minutes this season hovered around 20 as she worked back into game shape and as the Tar Heels, in general, coasted to a 9-0 start. On Sunday, with the outcome far from settled, Breland keyed a late run that put away the turnover-prone Rebels at Carmichael Arena.
North Carolina led 57-54 before Breland made four consecutive field goals, helping extend the lead to 67-60 with 2:26 remaining. UNLV would not get closer than six points.
“We saw what a difference Breland can make,” Tar Heels coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “A game like that last year probably would have gone the other way. She stepped up when we needed her to.”
Breland said she felt more at ease in this game after pressing at times this season. She was 1 of 9 from the field against Iowa on Dec. 2, but she had no trouble hitting the pressure shots Sunday.
“I felt like this game, especially the second half, I kind of got in the flow of the game,” the 6-foot-3 senior said. “I’ve been working on just letting it come to me. Some nights, I can get away with not producing too many points. (Today), we kind of needed me to step up.”
Italee Lucas added 16 points as the Tar Heels (10-0) overcame their first halftime deficit of the season. North Carolina struggled to pull away despite forcing 34 turnovers, shooting 35.4 percent from the field but making 31 of 41 free-throw attempts.
UNLV outrebounded UNC 43-34, but the numbers were 21-21 in the second half.
North Carolina missed its first 13 3-point attempts until Lucas, the Tar Heels’ leading scorer, knocked down a 3-pointer with 7:47 left for a 56-50 lead. UNLV stayed close, but tenacious defense eventually wore down the Rebels, playing their first game in the Eastern time zone in more than five seasons.
Kelli Thompson scored 22 points lead to lead UNLV, which led 32-31 at halftime despite 19 turnovers. Jamie Smith had 12 points and 11 rebounds for UNLV.
UNLV coughed up the ball at a rate of better than one per minute until the 13:25 mark. Yet, the Rebels took a 46-45 lead on Tia Morrison’s spinning layup with 11:19 remaining.
The Tar Heels grabbed the lead back for good on Breland’s two free throws. She scored 17 points after halftime and added six rebounds.
“She’s athletic, she’s long, and she makes the game look easy,” UNLV coach Kathy Olivier said. “We didn’t really have an answer for her.”