CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina got the fast start Hall of Fame coach Sylvia Hatchell would've demanded from her heralded freshman class.
Diamond DeShields scored 16 points in her first college game to help the No. 12 Tar Heels beat Air Force 87-26 in the opener for both teams.
Fellow rookie Stephanie Mavunga added 16 points and 13 rebounds for a Tar Heels team playing without Hatchell. The recently inducted Naismith Hall of Famer is fighting leukemia and was recently released from the hospital.
That left longtime assistant Andrew Calder in charge of getting the young Tar Heels their first taste of the college game ahead of Monday's visit from No. 4 Tennessee. An assistant to Hatchell for her entire 28-year tenure here, Calder and team staff all wore orange ribbons for leukemia awareness, while the players had ribbon patches on their jerseys.
"I would hope I'm coaching the game the way she wants this team to play, the way she put this team together," Calder said. "We talk a lot. We talked today: 'Any advice, Coach, going into the first game?' And she gave me some advice on how she wanted the team to play and attack whoever the opponent is. We played Sylvia Hatchell basketball today."
UNC dominated from the tip by holding Air Force to two baskets in the first half to take a 41-9 lead at the break. The Falcons finished the game shooting just 14 percent (7 for 50) and had 30 turnovers.
The Tar Heels have been without Hatchell for nearly four weeks. She was hospitalized for treatment at UNC's Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, but was released Thursday and is recovering from home. She addressed the players at Carmichael Arena on Thursday afternoon, the first time she had met with her team as a whole since her hospitalization.
"First of all, just seeing her was something special in itself," DeShields said. "Especially for us freshmen, we're new. And then we're starting and we don't have our head coach. Coach Calder is doing a great job replacing her, but seeing her, seeing her smile was great.
"She really just came in, she was positive, she said, 'You know, I'm going to get through this.' She just kept positive energy for us and gave us something to feed off of."
It was a strong debut for the Tar Heels' recruiting class, which is ranked No. 1 nationally by ESPN and features three McDonald's All-Americans.
DeShields, a 6-foot-1 forward from Norcross, Ga., shook off an early left ankle injury to lead the Tar Heels by making 8 of 15 shots with four steals in 18 minutes. The 6-3 Mavunga had three blocks and helped UNC dominate inside with 50 points in the paint.
Another freshman, Allisha Gray, came off the bench to add 13 points and six rebounds as the Tar Heels shot 47 percent and scored 30 points off turnovers. UNC also took a 53-33 rebounding advantage against the undersized Falcons and scored 16 second-chance points.
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