Ogwumike, Stanford rally past North Carolina
North Carolina was four minutes away from a storybook Final Four reunion with head coach Sylvia Hatchell.
The young Tar Heels just couldn’t get the final chapter right.
Despite having four freshmen among its top six scorers and no seniors on the roster, the 12th-ranked Tar Heels had advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2008 and had played No. 8 Stanford even on its home court for most of the game.
At stake was a trip to the Final Four in Nashville, Tenn., where Hatchell had promised to meet the team after she finished her final chemotherapy session in her battle with leukemia.
But after taking a 64-63 lead on a 3-pointer by Jessica Washington with four minutes left, UNC (27-10) fell apart.
Stanford (33-3), with its three senior starters, advanced to the Final Four for the sixth time in seven years and will face No. 1 Connecticut on Saturday.
“They’re very good. They’ve played well together for more than one year and they executed down the stretch,” said associate head coach Andrew Calder, who took over on-court coaching duties for Hatchell all season. “We’re talented and we should have won this game. We didn’t execute down the stretch and they executed down the stretch. Bottom line.”
Sophomore Xylina McDaniel missed three layups and was called for a charge, freshman Allisha Gray missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and freshman Diamond DeShields shot an airball and committed a turnover at half court during the final stretch.
“There were moments when there could have been momentum shifts for us,” DeShields said. “A lot of stuff that could have really changed the game around.”
Gray finished with team highs of 19 points and nine rebounds and DeShields — the national freshman of the year — scored 13 points and played 39 minutes after spraining her ankle and her knee in Sunday’s win over No. 1 seed South Carolina.
Freshman center Stephanie Mavunga added eight rebounds and junior point guard Latifah Coleman had six assists. But Gray and DeShields were the only Tar Heels in double figures, while Stanford had five double-digit scorers led by unanimous AP first-team all-American Chiney Ogwumike. The senior forward had 20 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Cardinal, including 16 points as Stanford outscored UNC 44-29 in the second half.
Cardinal senior Mikaela Ruef added 17 points, including three 3-pointers — half of her career total of six entering Tuesday.
Stanford finished undefeated at Maples Pavilion this season and improved to 30-4 all-time in NCAA Tournament home games.
Despite their youth, the Tar Heels have been better away from home (16-5) than at Carmichael Arena (11-5) and weren’t fazed by playing in front of 6,145 at Maples.
UNC made five straight 3-pointers to take an early 22-9 lead, including three from Gray and one each from McDaniel and Brittany Rountree. Another 3 by Coleman put UNC up 29-20.
Stanford made a 10-2 run to get back within one, but UNC held the Cardinal scoreless on its last seven possessions to stay in front 36-30 at halftime.
UNC had been 9 of 42 from behind the arc in the first three games of the tournament but went 7 of 13 in the first half and finished 9 of 22.
Stanford quickly made up the deficit in the second half, and a layup by Ogwumike gave the Cardinal a 43-42 lead with 15:32 left — its first lead since scoring on the opening possession of the game. Stanford eventually scored 12 straight points over 5½ minutes to go up 48-42, and a third-chance layup following two offensive rebounds by Ogwumike gave the Cardinal a 54-46 edge.
UNC made one final charge, scoring on eight of nine possessions to take the lead on Washington’s 3-pointer, but that would be the final highlight of the Tar Heels’ season.
Calder chocked back tears after the game as he thanked Hatchell and UNC administrators for trusting him with the team.
“We had the talent to get to the Final Four and I didn’t get us there, and for that I’m sorry,” Calder said.
But there weren’t any tears in UNC’s postgame locker room. Instead, the Tar Heels were already looking forward to next year, when the whole roster and Hatchell are expected to return along with sharpshooter Megan Buckland, who missed most of the year with an ACL injury.
“Yes, we should have won but, hey, we’re coming back with the same team next year,” McDaniel said. “And then Megan Buckland will be well. We’re just going to move forward with this. It’s a loss, but we’re going to learn from it and come back harder next year.”
|STANFORD 74, NORTH CAROLINA 65|
Percentages: FG .417, FT .667.
3-Point Goals: 9-22, .409 (Gray 3-6, McDaniel 2-3, Rountree 1-1, Washington 1-2, Coleman 1-3, DeShields 1-6, Butts 0-1).
Team Rebounds: 1.
Blocked Shots: 2 (McDaniel, Butts).
Turnovers: 13 (McDaniel 4, Coleman 3, DeShields 3, Mavunga 2, Gray).
Steals: 4 (Coleman, DeShields, Mavunga, Butts).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .500, FT .636.
3-Point Goals: 9-20, .450 (Ruef 3-5, B. Samuelson 3-7, Orrange 2-3, Thompson 1-4, K. Samuelson 0-1).
Team Rebounds: 2.
Blocked Shots: 3 (Ogwumike 2, Thompson).
Turnovers: 13 (Ogwumike 5, Thompson 3, Ruef 2, B. Samuelson 2, Orrange).
Steals: 5 (Thompson 2, Orrange, Ogwumike, James).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials_Lisa Jones, Cameron Inouye, Melissa Barlow.