North Carolina rolls into Sweet 16
Sweeeet! And sassy.
No. 4 UNC is headed to the Sweet 16 at Stanford on Sunday on the strength of a torrid running game, dominating defense and Diamond DeShields’ record-setting performance to upstage an outmanned and shell-shocked No. 5 Michigan State 62-53 in Carmichael Arena Tuesday night.
“We’re going to Cali,” DeShields said, pleading guilty to a little swagger after her jet-fueled double-double in a ferociously physical game placed the Tar Heels on the path to Stanford. They will play the winner of South Carolina and Oregon State on Sunday.
DeShields scored a game-high 24 points to claim the national freshman scoring record with 616 points – and counting. She also had 12 rebounds – all defensive – and three steals in what Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said was the most physical game she had seen all year.
“I think UT-Martin poked the beehive there, and we got a swarming bunch of bees coming at us early, and the biggest one in the bunch was Diamond DeShields. What an impressive freshman. She certainly deserves the national freshman of the year,” Merchant said.
DeShields, a 6-1 freshman guard, promised Monday that the Tar Heels would not come out sluggish like they did against UT-Martin on Sunday in a narrow 60-58, come-from-behind win. And she delivered.
“It hurt my pride a little bit as an offensive threat being held to four points in a half. That’s uncommon for me,” DeShields said of her performance Sunday.
“With what’s at stake this season, I knew that I couldn’t do that any more,” she said. “I just told myself that wasn’t going to happen tonight,” and she made sure to make a better shot selection.
“When she’s on fire you want to keep feeding her the ball, and she was on fire the whole game so we kept giving her the ball,” said 6-0 freshman guard Allisha Gray, who 10 points, seven defensive rebounds and a pair of steals.
Oh, about that sassy bit.
DeShields said the fire in the Tar Heels belly, that came out with glowing, focused intensity in their eyes, “wasn’t necessarily the hype” about the big, powerful, multi-talented Michigan State team.
“We got wind of some things that were said, and that fired us up a lot, struck a match up underneath everybody, from players all the way down to the staff,” DeShields said.
“All the words that were said were settled on the court. I just would suggest not to make comments about our team before a game. It would be wise not to do that,” DeShields said.
“It’s over now,” she said, declining to reveal the nature of the smack talk.
Coaches and players agreed in post-game comments the game was brutal.
“It was the most physical game I’ve been involved in in a long time. And we play some really, really tough teams,” Merchant said.
“ACC, sometimes we have that rep of maybe being a soft league, and Big Ten is a physical league. We said we were going to show them how to play physical basketball tonight, and we did,” UNC associate head coach Andrew Calder said.
“We knew that it was going to be a big part of the game, and that’s part of the reason why I think I was crashing the boards the way that I was. I just knew it was something that I had to do,” she said.
DeShields left the game temporarily after hitting her head crashing to the floor. Teammate Stephanie Mavunga, a 6-3 freshman forward, was taken out of the game in the waning minutes after she went down hard and a Michigan State player appeared to accidentally step on her head.
“I was just back there trying to regroup, gather my thoughts, get my life together” when she was taken to the locker room after her injury, DeShields cracked. “I felt like I had tons on my head so I just had to get away from the noise and get away from everybody.”
Asked about having an ice pack on her neck and if the injury was bothering her, DeShields joked, “It was hot. I was burning up.”
Calder said both players are fine.
And he was pleased his team had a well balanced attack that kept Michigan State off balance.
“We did a good job of mixing our driving with our cutting game and ball screen game. I thought the point guards did a good job,” Calder said. “I thought (assistant coach) Ivory (Latta) had them adjusting to what they were doing defensively and what we thought we could take advantage of.”
If there was one glaring difference between the teams, other than DeShields’ spectacular performance, it was the Tar Heels’ run-and-gun game. The Spartans couldn’t compete with the Tar Heels’ speed, which resulted in 17 Carolina fast-break points to just 4 for Michigan State.
The Spartans’ point-producing machine Aerial Powers, one of the nation’s top-scoring freshmen with 440 points and who tallied 26 points against Hampton on Sunday, was stymied throughout the game and had just 2 points.
UNC’s 6-2 sophomore forward Xylina McDaniel pressured and frustrated Powers all night, and when the Spartan tested DeShields on drives to the basket she found her just as impermeable and unmovable.
Part of Michigan State’s money game this season was the 3-point game, with 5-8 freshman guard Tori Jankoska coming into the tournament with 62 3-pointers and 6-3 senior forward Annalise Pickrel ranking seventh on the Spartans all-time list with 134 3-pointers and a 35.4 percent conversion rate.
UNC’s swarming defense held Pickrel to 1-4 and Jankoska 1-5 from 3-point range.
The Tar Heels jumped out to a 36-27 lead in the first half with their fierce, in-your-face defense and aggressive running game. DeShields set the tone for the game, drilling 18 of UNC’s first-half points and fed by teammates happy to dish to her hot hand.
As she did the whole game, DeShields repeatedly drove to the net like mercury through fingers. At 15:34 of the first period DeShields showed great court instinct that she would repeat later.
On her drive, initiated by a defensive rebound and pass by Gray, with Spartans hustling to fill in down low to stop her, DeShields pulled up short and drained a 3-point jumper, to put UNC ahead 11-2.
Neither team shot with laser precision, but UNC had the edge at 36.5 percent from the floor compared to Michigan State’s 31.5 percent.
UNC had a slight edge in rebounds, 41-40, and had 19 turnovers compared to 24 for Michigan State. UNC’s ability to convert offensive rebounds for 13 points was another advantage. The Spartans scored just eight points off of offensive rebounds.
NORTH CAROLINA 62, MICHIGAN ST. 53
Percentages: FG .315, FT .682.
3-Point Goals: 4-16, .250 (Mills 1-2, Agee 1-3, Pickrel 1-4, Jankoska 1-5, Bell 0-1, Powers 0-1).
Team Rebounds: 2.
Blocked Shots: 6 (Williams 4, Agee, Pickrel).
Turnovers: 24 (Jankoska 5, Bell 4, Powers 4, Pickrel 3, Hines 3, Agee 2, Mills).
Steals: 8 (Agee 2, Bell 2, Jankoska 2, Pickrel, Hines).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .365, FT .875.
3-Point Goals: 2-10, .200 (DeShields 1-1, Coleman 1-3, Butts 0-1, Washington 0-1, Gray 0-1, Rountree 0-3).
Team Rebounds: 3.
Blocked Shots: 5 (Mavunga 2, Gray, Coleman, McDaniel).
Turnovers: 19 (DeShields 6, Gray 4, Rountree 2, Coleman 2, McDaniel 2, Washington, Butts, Summers).
Steals: 13 (McDaniel 4, DeShields 3, Butts 2, Gray 2, Washington, Mavunga).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials_Angelica Suffren, Laura Morris, William Smith.