DeShields’s double-double leads UNC women to Sweet 16
North Carolina Diamond DeShields gestures during the first half of a second-round game against Michigan State at the NCAA college basketball tournament in Chapel Hill, N.C. Tuesday, March 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Ellen Ozier)
North Carolina's Diamond DeShields (23) and teammate Danielle Butts (10), along with Michigan State's Tori Jankoska, left, and Klarissa Bell (21) walk the court during following the teams' second-round game of the NCAA college basketball tournament in Chapel Hill, N.C. Tuesday, March 25, 2014. North Carolina beat Michigan State 62-53. (AP Photo/Ellen Ozier)
Michigan State's Annalise Pickrel, left, looks to make a pass under pressure from North Carolina's Xylina McDaniel (34) and Allisha Gray during the first half of a second-round game of the NCAA college basketball tournament in Chapel Hill, N.C. Tuesday, March 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Ellen Ozier)
Michigan State's Becca Mills (52) goes to the basket against North Carolina's Stephanie Mavunga, left, and Xylina McDaniel during the first half of a second-round game of the NCAA college basketball tournament in Chapel Hill, N.C. Tuesday, March 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Ellen Ozier)
North Carolina's Diamond DeShields (23) goes to the basket against Michigan State's Becca Mills, left, and Klarissa Bell during the first half of a second-round game of the NCAA college basketball tournament in Chapel Hill, N.C. Tuesday, March 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Ellen Ozier)
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – 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 last 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 11½ 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 last 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 9½-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.
Penn State 83, Florida 61
Maggie Lucas and Dara Taylor each scored 22 points to send Penn State into the Sweet 16.
The third-seeded Lady Lions (24-7) will play at No. 2 Stanford (30-3) on Sunday.
Lucas, the two-time Big Ten player of the year, surpassed the 2,500 career-point milestone and led the Lady Lions to the NCAA tournament regional semifinal for the second time in three seasons.
Ariel Edwards added 16 points for Penn State. The Lady Lions are in the Sweet 16 for the 13th time.
Kayla Lewis led the 11th-seeeded Gators (20-13) with 20 points and nine rebounds. Jaterra Bonds scored 14.
Maryland 69, Texas 64
Alyssa Thomas scored all 16 of her points in the second half, and Maryland squeezed past cold-shooting Texas to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA women’s tournament for the third consecutive year.
The fourth-seeded Terrapins (26-6) next face Tennessee, the No. 1 seed in the Louisville Regional. Maryland is 23-8 in the tournament under Coach Brenda Frese and has reached the round of 16 in six of her 12 seasons at the helm.
Texas trailed by 11 points with 9:24 left, but an 8-0 run cut the deficit to 65-64 with 43 seconds left. After Maryland’s 16th turnover of the game, Chassidy Fussell missed a 3-point try and Maryland’s Laurin Mincy made two free throws for a three-point lead.
Nekia Jones then bounced a 3-point try off the rim for the Longhorns, and Thomas clinched the victory by sinking two foul shots with eight seconds to go.
Connecticut 91, Saint Joseph’s 52
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had the third triple-double in UConn history as the Huskies moved into their 21st straight NCAA regional semifinal.
Mosqueda-Lewis had 20 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists to lead five players in double figures for the top-ranked Huskies (36-0), who won their 42nd straight game.
Breanna Stewart added 21 points and 11 rebounds, and Bria Hartley also chipped in 20 points for the defending national champions, who are trying to win a record ninth NCAA tournament.
Erin Shields and Sarah Fairbanks each had 12 points to lead Saint Joseph’s which finished the year at 23-10. Natasha Cloud had 10 and six assists for the Hawks.
UConn will face 12th-seeded BYU in the Lincoln semifinal on Saturday. The Cougars upset Nebraska in the second round, sparing the Huskies a date with the Cornhuskers on their home court.