CARMICHAEL ARENA/CHAPEL HILL UNC comes home ranked No. 14 and carrying the championship of Hawaii’s Rainbow Wahine Showdown, but the Tar Heels may be getting their most serious challenge so far this season.

UNC guard Italee Lucas
  • Photo courtesy UNC athletics
  • UNC guard Italee Lucas

The opponent is No. 18 Iowa, on the second of two nights of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Both teams are 7-0, and Lisa Bluder’s Hawkeyes lead the series 2-0.

So far no one has been within 29 points of the Tar Heels — Robert Morris and Illinois share those honors — and tonight’s game should be a lot closer than that.

It is, although it doesn’t look that way from the outset. But Italee Lucas leads the way with a career-high 34 points as UNC escapes with a 79-67 victory.

The Tar Heels waste little time establishing control. They score six seconds into the game on Chay Shegog’s layup from Cetera DeGraffenreid, then go up 11-0 on Lucas’ 3-pointer from the right corner at 17:06.

But the Hawkeyes keep coming. Trailing 50-38 following a Lucas jumper with 16:27 to go, Iowa scores the next 11 points ending on a Morgan Johnson free throw at 11:13. But Laura Broomfield’s bank shot with 10:19 remaining starts a 10-0 Tar Heel run with the last eight points from Lucas.

Iowa cuts it back to 61-60 on a 3-pointer from Jaime Printy at 5:25, but Lucas responds with five straight to get the Tar Heels some breathing room.

UNC takes the lead to 74-62 on a pair of Broomfield free throws with 1:53 to go and holds on.

Lucas finishes 14-for-21 from the floor including 6-for-9 from outside the 3-point arc.

Broomfield adds 12 points and 11 rebounds off the bench for UNC, which gets 10 points from Shegog. Jessica
Breland and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt each grab 10 rebounds for the Tar Heels, who had not had a game closer than 29 points until Thursday.

Printy leads Iowa with 17 points while Johnson adds 16 points and a career-high 13 rebounds and Kamille Wahlin also scores 16 points.

UNC shoots 43 percent to Iowa’s 34 percent and wins the rebound battle 50-42.

They said it …

UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell: “Iowa’s a really good team, and we knew they were. They’re fundamental, they’ve got shooters, they’re tough. Either they or Ohio State will probably win the Big Ten. They’re a great team and it was fun to play them. We started off strong and got up by 20, but I kept telling the players, ‘Hey look, this is a great team. They’re not going to go away. We were a little bit flat coming out in the second half, but we dug deep when we had to and Italee made some big shots. She put them down and did a really good job for us there. We learned a lot and it was a great game for us. … We’re a whole lot better team than we were last year. That was like a bad dream.”

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder: “Lucas is a great player. She’s even better than I thought she was going to be watching her on film. She’s got a quick release and really a pretty shot. And we can’t give a great player those easy of looks. We gave them the closest game they’ve seen so far, on their home floor, and we battled back. We were 20 down and we battled back to a point in the second half. We out-rebounded them by five in the second half. We lost our composure in the first half and we paid the price.”

Lucas: “People talk about a ‘zone’ and what-not, but my teammates gave me good looks, and when the occasion comes you have to step up in certain situations more so than others. As a team we’ve been really focused the last couple of games, and this game really showed our character and toughness toward the end of the stretch.”

Johnson: “Big players like to go for shot-fakes, and I was looking for that. I just knew my team needed me to go in there and rebound, so I just went in there and tried to get as many as I could.”

What does it all mean?
That the Tar Heels can withstand a tough challenge from a Top 20 team when an easy-looking game suddenly becomes tough. And that Iowa is pretty resilient not to have been completely blown out.

Stars of the game

1. Lucas.
2. Broomfield.
3. Johnson.

Play of the game
Lucas’ 3-pointer on an assist from Shegog to make it 64-60 with 5:12 left.

Series record
Iowa leads 2-1.

UNC: Won 8.
Iowa: Lost 1.

Up next
Iowa vs. Kansas State, Sunday, 3 p.m.
UNC vs. East Tennessee State, Wednesday, 7 p.m.