Among the multitude of thoughts and names written on North Carolina senior Rashanda McCants’ basketball shoes — Air Jordans, of course — is one simple message that says it all for this time and place: “Last Dance!”
“I definitely look at that before every game just to live in the moment,” the versatile 6-foot-1 forward said Sunday.
McCants is one of several key seniors, for both teams, that will be trying to keep their college careers alive tonight when the third-seeded Tar Heels (28-6) and sixth-seeded Purdue (23-10) meet at 7 in the second round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament at McKenzie Arena.
Another is Purdue’s 6-2 forward Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton, who was named first-team All-Big Ten after missing all of last season with a knee injury.
Wisdom-Hylton said she had “just a few” nerves in Purdue’s first-round win over No. 11 Charlotte. She finished with 10 points and seven rebounds in her first NCAA tournament game since a loss to North Carolina in the 2007 Elite Eight.
“It’s your senior year and I think (I had) that kind of nervousness. You could be one and done, you never know,” Wisdom-Hylton said. “I’m excited to be here and to be back and to play with my team.”
McCants had an off shooting day in the Tar Heels’ first-round win over Central Florida on Saturday. She was 1-for-9 from the floor and totaled five points — she came in averaging nearly 15 a game — and nine rebounds.
It was a shooting performance she’s trying not to dwell on, said McCants, whose brother, Rashad, was an All-ACC player at UNC and now plays for the Sacramento Kings.
“The advice of my brother was just to move on and have a good practice today and play better tomorrow,” said McCants, a second-team All-ACC selection.
McCants and UNC’s seniors reached the Final Four in their first two seasons and the Elite Eight as juniors, and to make another deep run McCants will likely need to bounce back against the Boilermakers. She lit up Purdue last season, scoring 28 points in a 90-72 win on UNC’s home floor.
For the coaches and veterans on both teams, tonight’s matchup was far from unexpected. This will be their third NCAA tournament meeting in the past four years, with UNC winning the first two, and the matchup doesn’t feel much like a second-round game, UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said.
“We have played Purdue several times in the last few years, and we know each other well,” Hatchell said. “They’re a very good team. I know they’re better than their record indicates ... and they’re probably better than their seed. In the second round like this, I’m not sure any of the other games are as competitive as this one.”
The Tar Heels are 4-1 all-time against the Boilermakers, with four of the games coming in the NCAA tournament. North Carolina won a Final Four matchup on its way to the 1994 national champions and won in the 2006 Sweet 16 and in the Elite Eight in 2007. Purdue’s lone win in the series came in the 1999 Sweet 16 on its way to a national championship.
Today’s winner will face the Auburn-Rutgers winner Sunday in Oklahoma City.
John Frierson is in his fifth year at the Times Free Press and fifth year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...