ACC Women: UNC 74, Clemson 55
GREENSBOROó North Carolina rebounded from a sluggish start by, well, rebounding.
Jessica Breland had 22 points and 11 rebounds, and the 11th-ranked Tar Heels shook off some shaky early play by dominating the glass in a 74-55 rout of Clemson in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament on Friday.
Rashanda McCants added 19 points and Italee Lucas had 10 points and 11 rebounds for the fourth-seeded Tar Heels (26-5), who overcame their early struggles with a remarkably efficient run to start the second half, built a 59-33 rebounding advantage and claimed their 14th straight victory in the series.
“We knew that if we win the boards, we win,” Breland said.
Did they ever. The plus-26 rebounding margin was a season high, and sent the four-time defending league tournament champions into the semifinals Saturday when they will face No. 4 Maryland.
Freshman Bryelle Smith scored 13 points for the 12th-seeded Tigers (14-17). They surprised fifth-seeded Georgia Tech in the opening round, but haven’t won multiple games at an ACC tournament since they won their most recent league title in 1999.
Yet they put quite a scare into North Carolina for a while ó at least, until the Tar Heels shook off the slow start that accompanied their morning tip-off.
And they didn’t even need a dose of coach Sylvia Hatchell’s wrath to snap out of the first-half funk that left them leading just 31-29 at the break.
“I don’t really jump on them too much, like I used to,” Hatchell said. “This group, you can’t fuss at them too much … or you just lose them. … We definitely just wanted to keep the tempo up, and I think that was good for us.”
North Carolina opened the final 20 minutes with a 16-2 burst that included points on nine of its first 10 possessions. Breland and McCants each knocked down a pair of jumpers to lead the surge, and Lucas’ layup near the 17-minute mark pushed North Carolina’s lead into double figures for good. Breland later pushed the lead to 20 with a layup with 9:15 left.