The fourth-seeded North Carolina women’s basketball team delivered a stirring performance on both sides of the floor Tuesday night in Carmichael to down No. 5 seed Michigan State 62-53 and book a spot in the Sweet Sixteen in Stanford, California this weekend.
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With the victory, the Tar Heels improved to 26-9 on the season while the Spartans finished at 23-10.
“There were no nerves. I was fired up. I was extremely fired up for the game tonight. I had no nerves at all. I was at home with these fans who came out deep tonight and they were live too. I had no nerves at all. We had no nerves. We were comfortable with where we were at. We were very comfortable as soon as that ball got thrown into the air, and it showed,” freshman Diamond DeShields says.
That was UNC’s National Freshman of the Year DeShields after Carolina’s emphatic victory. DeShields dominated the game in the first half, scoring 18 points and grabbing seven rebounds.
Michigan State Head Coach Suzy Merchant says UT-Martin “poked the beehive” for the Tar Heels and says one of the angriest bees was DeShields, who she says lived up to every bit of the hype.
“I think UT-Martin poked the beehive there. We got a bunch of swarming bees coming at us early. The biggest one of the bunch was Diamond DeShields. What an impressive freshman. She certainly deserves the National Freshman of the Year. She was a one-man wrecking crew in the first half – what a special talent, tough to guard,” Coach Merchant says.
The Carmichael crowd was strong, and with Carolina men’s basketball coach Roy Williams looking on, the Tar Heels did not disappoint. They played the fast and physical brand of basketball that Associate Coach Andrew Calder says makes Head Coach Sylvia Hatchell proud.
“I thought the first 30 minutes were just outstanding Carolina basketball. I know Coach Hatchell is extremely proud. The players were outstanding. I just thought it was a Carolina performance that we’re all very proud of and want to take to the next game,” Coach Calder says.
Carolina jumped out to a quick lead, taking a 36-27 advantage into the halftime locker room, but it was the first half of the final 20 minutes of play that cemented the win. UNC overwhelmed MichiganState with some ferocious play and efficient shooting to build an insurmountable cushion.
And DeShields has some advice for future Tar Heel opponents: don’t give them any bulletin board material before games. She says it only adds fuel to the fire.
“We got wind of some things that were said that fired us up a lot. It struck a match up underneath everybody – from players all the way down to the staff. All the words that were said were settled on the court. I would just suggest not to make comments about our team before a game,” DeShields says.
Carolina outrebounded Michigan State 41-40 and knocked in 14-16 free throw attempts.
Allisha Gray and Latifah Coleman both contributed 10 points to the Tar Heel scoreboard while Jasmine Hines led the scoring charge for the Spartans with 16 points.
Next up for the Tar Heels is a Sunday meeting with the top-seeded team in the Stanford region, the South Carolina Gamecocks. But Carolina’s players will go into the contest with the confidence of knowing they beat South Carolina earlier this season.
The youthful Tar Heels have made it clear they don’t want to wait for the years to come to win big. Their goal is to reach the Final Four in 2014. But UNC’s road to Nashville will first take a tough detour through California.