UNC women head to Sweet 16
CHAPEL HILL — Diamond DeShields had it all working: the pullup in transition, the stepback jumper over a defender, the defense, the rebounding.
Determined to put her lackluster NCAA tournament debut behind her, North Carolina’s star freshman put on a dominating show to help the Tar Heels beat Michigan State 62-53 in Tuesday night’s second round.
DeShields finished with 24 points and a season-high 12 rebounds, a reversal from the game that nearly put an early end to UNC’s season.
The 6-foot-1 guard from Norcross, Ga., did it all with the ease — and even swagger — of a veteran.
“There were no nerves,” she said. “I was extremely fired up for the game tonight. ... We were very comfortable as soon as that ball got thrown into the air. And it showed.”
It sure did. The fourth-seeded Tar Heels (26-9) led by nine at halftime then dominated the opening minutes of the second half to turn the game into a rout.
North Carolina ran off 14 straight points to blow the game open, with DeShields scoring twice during that flurry to build a 57-31 lead with 111/2 minutes left that allowed the Tar Heels to coast to the round of 16 in the Stanford Regional.
The Tar Heels pressured the fifth-seeded Spartans (23-10) and turned the game into the up-and-down pace they wanted. It was a huge improvement from their first-round game against UT Martin on Sunday, when they had to rally from 18 down after halftime to win 60-58.
“I think UT Martin poked the beehive there,” Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said. “And we got a swarming bunch of bees coming at us early. The biggest one of the bunch was Diamond DeShields.”
DeShields struggled to a 3-for-12 shooting day in that one, including going the first half without a basket before scoring 13 points during the game-turning run.
That off-kilter player was nowhere to be found Tuesday night.
The Atlantic Coast Conference freshman of the year, who came in averaging a team-best 17.9 points, finished 9 for 17 from the field in 35 minutes. She needed just three points to set the ACC single-season freshman scoring record, blowing past Georgia Tech’s Kaela Davis, who ended year with 594 points.
“It hurt my pride a little bit,” she said of the UT Martin game. “And with what’s at stake this season, I knew I couldn’t do that anymore. ... So I just told myself that wasn’t going to happen tonight.”
She certainly seemed to be having fun, too. After one transition layup, she was jumping around, clapping and smiling all while waiting on defense for the Spartans to cross halfcourt.
When she left for the locker room briefly after banging her head on a defender’s leg, she returned during a timeout and raised one arm to motion to the home crowd to get loud.
There was also that confident strut, down to the way she stared down a defender after burying a stepback jumper early in the second half.
She even locked down defensively on Klarissa Bell as the senior ran the point and finished with one basket.
The Spartans had no way to counter her. And her energy trickled down to the rest of the Tar Heels, who were a step quicker all night.
“When she’s on and she’s rolling, whether she’s telling you about it or she’s doing it, they feed off of it, no question,” Merchant said. “When she’s confident, they’re confident.”
The Tar Heels had lost in the second round last year and missed the tournament in 2012. Now they’re heading west to face the Oregon State-South Carolina winner on Sunday.
Jasmine Hines matched her season high with 16 points while Tori Jankoska had 14 for the Spartans, who trailed 36-27 at halftime. Then they made 1 of 16 shots to start the second half — including a 91/2-minute stretch of 15 straight misses — to watch the Tar Heels speed out of sight.
“I think their team is very aggressive,” Hines said. “Coach told us that but I don’t think we really understood just how aggressive they were.”
Redshirt freshman Aerial Powers, Michigan State’s leading scorer, finished with two points on 0-for-5 shooting.
Two days earlier, she had 26 points and set a program tournament record with 18 rebounds.
Allisha Gray added 10 points for UNC, which shot 37 percent and cooled off after building its huge lead. Michigan State shot 32 percent.