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Late miscues send Liberty women to 71-65 loss to North Carolina in NCAA 1st round

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CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina — Liberty kept chipping away at North Carolina's lead. But every time the Flames got too close, something went wrong.

Turnovers at inopportune times and some key missed shots and defensive breakdowns led to Liberty's 71-65 loss to the Tar Heels on Saturday in the first round of the Greensboro Regional.

Ashley Rininger had 19 points and 13 rebounds for the Flames (26-7), who were trying to become the second No. 13 seed to win a tournament game.

"I think all of us felt it," guard Emily Frazier said. "We knew we had to battle every single time, every single board. ... We kind of saw that coming together in that stretch. We just didn't capitalize."

They trailed by 14 but chipped away at North Carolina's lead down the stretch, pulling to 65-59 on Jaymee Fisher-Davis' 3-pointer with 1:02 left.

Latifah Coleman followed with a driving layup with 40.5 seconds to play before Frazier hit a free throw with 26.9 seconds remaining to make it a seven-point game.

Brittany Rountree made it 69-60 with two free throws with 25.2 seconds left.

Karly Buer had 14 points for Liberty, which had its 14-game winning streak snapped. The Flames — making their 16th NCAA appearance in 19 years — were denied both their first NCAA Tournament victory and their first win over a Top 25 opponent since 2005.

"Right now we're on top of the wave and we'll see how that turns out," coach Carey Green said of the exposure the tournament brings. "If you're not in the dance, if you're not in the 64, nobody sees you."

Allisha Gray scored 17 points and Latifah Coleman had 15 for the fourth-seeded Tar Heels (25-8), who shot 49 percent in giving Hall of Fame coach Sylvia Hatchell a victory in her return to the NCAA Tournament after a year away to fight leukemia.

"This whole week, I have been so stressed out," Hatchell said. "It's a good stressed because I'm so excited about the tournament."

"Tournament time, you've got to keep going, keep punching," Coleman said. "We just had confidence in each other that we were going to win this game. Our motto for this tournament is 'finish,' and that's what we were trying to do."

PHOTO: Liberty coach Carey Green speaks with his players during the first half of a women's college basketball game against North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, March 21, 2015. North Carolina won 71-65. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Liberty coach Carey Green speaks with his players during the first half of a women's college basketball game against North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, March 21, 2015. North Carolina won 71-65. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Stephanie Mavunga added 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting for North Carolina, which will play the James Madison-Ohio State winner on Monday night with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line.

The Tar Heels have reached the regional semifinals in 14 of their last 19 NCAA Tournament appearances — including last year under the guidance of associate head coach Andrew Calder, who filled in for Hatchell while she stepped away.

"Every time we think about the tournament and last year, we get filled with emotion," Coleman said. "Having coach Hatchell is back great. ... There's more purpose behind what we do and why we do it."

Added Mavunga: "She's like a mama bear."

STAT SHEET:

North Carolina hadn't been outrebounded this badly all season. Liberty held a 52-35 advantage on the boards — the widest margin of the season for a UNC team that had been outrebounded eight times in its last 10 games but only once by more than eight. "I don't know what words, how you could describe" the rebounding, Hatchell said. "It was pretty bad."

TIP-INS:

Liberty: The Flames, who shoot 30 percent from 3-point range, missed their first 14 attempts from beyond the arc before Buer hit one with 4½ minutes left.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels avoided going one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament for just the third time since 1987.

UP NEXT:

Liberty: Season over.

North Carolina: Plays Ohio State or James Madison on Monday night in the second round.


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