MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) -- Italee Lucas scored 10 of her 19 points in a second-half run that rallied No. 2 North Carolina past Illinois 68-59 at the Carolinas Challenge on Saturday.
Rashanda McCants had 15 points for the Tar Heels, who improved to 12-0 for the third time in four seasons.
But that was in doubt for much of this one.
North Carolina had put up a season-high 104 points in beating Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Tuesday. But the Tar Heels struggled to a season-low 23 first-half points against the Illini (4-7).
Illinois, which made just one brief substitution to its starting five all game, was ahead 41-33 on Jenna Smith's two foul shots with 14:54 to go.
That's when the Tar Heels and Lucas got going.
Jessica Breland began the run with two baskets. Lucas then made a 3-pointer to tie the score at 41. Lucas had another field goal and two free throws before hitting the last of her three 3-pointers to put North Carolina ahead 51-43.
Illinois came as close as 63-59 on Chelsea Gordon's 3 with 1:23 to go. But the Tar Heels held on to win their ninth straight game along the Grand Strand, South Carolina's main seaside resort.
Smith led the Illini with 20 points and nine rebounds.
Little went right for North Carolina early on.
The Tar Heels missed their first four shots. They had nearly as many turnovers (9) as field goals (10) in the first 20 minutes.
Illinois' starters -- second-year coach Jolette Law didn't use a sub in the half -- took full advantage. The Illini packed in the middle, allowing North Carolina the long, quick shots it was not hitting.
The Tar Heels were just 1-of-11 on 3-pointers. Take away McCants' 5-of-9 shooting, and the rest of the team finished 5-of-22 from the field.
Lucas' 3 with 1:57 to go gave North Carolina its only lead of the half at 23-22. But Lydia McCully answered back with a 3 to send Illinois into the break ahead 25-23.
The Carolinas Classic is an annual trip for North Carolina -- and usually a successful one. The Tar Heels are 20-4 along the Grand Strand and typically play to large crowds at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center filled with potential prospects competing in a concurrent high school holiday tournament.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)