Carolina’s Diamond: DeShields Hauling In The Accolades

North Carolina women’s basketball star Diamond DeShields has been honored as the USBWA National Freshman of the Year.

The announcement was made at the Bridgestone Arena, prior to the Women’s Final Four. DeShields and the Tar Heels fell just short of a trip to Nashville, falling to Stanford in the Elite Eight.

DeShields led Carolina to a strong 27-10 record and averaged 18 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.7 steals per game, displaying her talents all season long as one of the best players across the nation. She has quickly established herself as a player who relishes the spotlight in the biggest of games.

DeShields set four ACC freshman single-season records this season: total points with 648, fields goals made with 248, and double-figure scoring games with 32.

Already named the top freshman nationally by ESPN and Full Court, DeShields is also the only freshman who appeared on the John R. Wooden Award Top-15 list in 2014.

Last week, the ACC Rookie of the Year was tabbed as an AP All-America Honorable Mention.

Watching DeShields and the rest of the young returning cast in Carolina uniform next season promises to be a special treat.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/carolinas-diamond-deshields-hauling-accolades/

Oh So Close! Youthful Tar Heels Fall 74-65 To Veteran Cardinal Team In Elite Eight

The fourth-seeded North Carolina women’s basketball team fell to second-seeded Stanford 74-65 Tuesday night, coming up one round short of the Final Four and finishing the season with a 27-10 record.

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Things started well for UNC. Allisha Gray and the Tar Heels raced out to a 22-9 lead in the first half thanks to some hot perimeter shooting.

At the intermission, Carolina held a 36-30 advantage over Stanford. Gray totaled 15 points, making six of her eight attempts from the floor.

The second half wasn’t as favorable to the Tar Heels. The fouls started piling up and the shots stopped falling. And the Cardinal took full advantage by going on a 12-0 run and gaining their first lead since it was 2-0 in the first half at 43-42 with 15 minutes to play.

But credit the Tar Heels, wanting desperately to earn a Final Four reunion with Head Coach Sylvia Hatchell, for continuing to battle on, even reclaiming the lead at 63-62 with a clutch three-point make by freshman Jessica Washington with 3:50 remaining in the game.

Sloppy turnovers and missed opportunities characterized the waning minutes for the Tar Heels; however, as things started to unravel and Stanford pulled away, booking a Final Four meeting with undefeated Connecticut on Sunday.

Gray led the scoring charge for Carolina with 19 points while Stanford senior Chiney Ogwumike led her team with 20 points.

Allisha Gray led UNC with 19 points (UNC Athletics)

Allisha Gray led UNC with 19 points (UNC Athletics)

DeShields was visibly nowhere near 100 percent following a bevy of injuries. But the banged up Tar Heel fought admirably, finishing with 13 points despite her ailments putting a damper on her usual explosive skills.

There were no tears in the locker room for the Tar Heels. Optimism ran supreme, and for good reason. Carolina has no seniors. Everybody is returning for another run at a Final Four trip, and this time, they’ll have Coach Hatchell back at the helm.

Walter Storholt, of the Tar Heel Sports Network, sums up the bright future of the Tar Heels in fine fashion.

“The good news is that all these Tar Heels will be back. No seniors on the squad. It’s a freshman-led team. The juniors will be seniors next year. This team will have a lot to look forward to over the next couple of years. They proved that here in this tournament,” Storholt says.

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/oh-so-close-youthful-tar-heels-fall/

Tar Heels Bracing For ‘Track Meet’ Elite Eight With Coach Hatchell Inspiration

The fourth-seeded North Carolina women’s basketball team, 27-9 on the season, will face a true road test Tuesday night at 9 p.m. when the Tar Heels take on the second-seeded and veteran-laden Stanford Cardinal, 32-3 on the year, for a spot in the Final Four.

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The Tar Heels feature a bevy of talented freshman that have been saying they don’t want to wait for their turn at NCAA Tournament glory.

Meanwhile, the Cardinal find themselves at the other end of the spectrum, veterans with loads of Final Four experience blanket Stanford’s lineup.

The leading freshman in the nation, Carolina’s Diamond DeShields, says the Tar Heels will have to contain Stanford’s star Chiney Ogwumike, a fifth-year senior, in order to harbor any chance of a victory.

“You’ve got pay attention to Chiney down low. I had the opportunity to play with her on the USA basketball team, so it will be nice to reunite on opposite teams. She’s the focal point on their offense and defense. We’re definitely going to figure some things out on how to get around her and how to find a weakness on their defense,” DeShields says.

DeShields goes into Tuesday’s game as a game-time decision following the knee and ankle injuries she sustained in the physical Sweet Sixteen contest with rival South Carolina. But if precedent is any indication, seeing the tough-minded competitor on the sidelines in the biggest game of the year would be a shocker – just take Sunday’s game as an indicator.

“Coach wanted to sit me for the half. I told him that I was ready to play. I didn’t want to have that burden on my shoulders of not having done everything that I could to contribute to the team win. I think that I didn’t hold the team back with my injury. I was still a contributor and was able to produce,” DeShields says.

The 'Heels are headed to California!

The ‘Heels are Elite Eight ready! (Elliott Rubin)

DeShields acknowledges the rapid development and maturation of the Tar Heels throughout the season. She says she sees improvement in each and every round of postseason play.

“We’ve grown faster as time has gone on. At the beginning, it was a little bit slow. We were making typical freshman mistakes. At this point in the game, we’re growing every day. […] As we continue in this tournament, we are growing a lot faster, only because we have to,” DeShields says.

Associate Head Coach Andrew Calder points to a single moment when he believes his young crop really gained the needed belief they could compete at the highest level.

“When we went to Duke and won at Duke, and Diamond DeShields and Allisha Gray had tremendous games, I thought that was a big turning point for them to realize we can beat anybody. There are 8000 people at Duke,” Coach Calder says.

Freshman Stephanie Mavunga says although not present with the team in California, Head Coach Sylvia Hatchell’s encouragement from afar puts a smile on her face.

“Things like that make me smile and get me motivated. I know she’s going to be able to be at the Final Four game in Nashville if we are able to get there. God willing, we’ll get there. That keeps us going. Before we left, she kept saying, ‘Well, Nashville, there’s the Final Four. There’s an Elite Eight. Why not us? Why not Carolina?’ That always plays back in my head,” Mavunga says.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/tar-heels-bracing-track-meet-elite-eight-matchup/

Carolina’s Best: Tar Heels Beat Rival Gamecocks To Gain ‘Elite’ Status

The fourth-seeded North Carolina women’s basketball team turned back top-seeded South Carolina 65-58 and booked a spot in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament thanks to  a strong defensive effort that earned Carolina its first win over a No. 1 seed since the 1994 title season.

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With the victory, the Tar Heels improved to 27-9 on the season while the Gamecocks dropped to 29-5 with the defeat.

UNC never trailed in the contest, seizing momentum early on and surviving a second-half surge from the Gamecocks, who went on a 10-2 run to start the closing 20 minutes of play.

Interestingly, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley chose to begin fouling UNC every time they touched the ball with over 1:30 still left on the clock. The plan backfired as Brittany Rountree knocked down clutch free throws to seal the victory.

South Carolina’s Alaina Coates took over the game in the second half with toughness inside. Coates finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds in the contest.

Carolina’s Diamond DeShields totaled 19 points to lead the Tar Heel scoring charge, but Stephanie Mavunga’s performance in the paint proved especially vital. Mavunga finished with 13 points.

In scary fashion, DeShields went down with an ankle injury early in the first half and was escorted to the locker room. But she only missed three minutes of action before returning to the court and playing on with her trademark grit and determination.

After the game, Rountree, a UNC junior, said all her experience aided in her calmness under pressure at the free throw line in the Sweet Sixteen affair.

In his postgame remarks, Associate Head Coach Andrew Calder thanked Head Coach Sylvia Hatchell and UNC women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance for their influential words before the team departed for Stanford.

Next up for the Tar Heels is an Elite Eight showdown with the Stanford Cardinal, the No. 2 seeds in the region. The game will tip Tuesday night at 9 p.m. with a spot in the Final Four in Nashville on the line.

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/tar-heels-10/

Tar Heels face ‘Battle of the Carolinas’ for Coveted Elite Eight Slot

The fifth-seeded North Carolina women’s basketball team, 26-9 on the season, will play top-seeded South Carolina, 29-4 on the year, Sunday evening at 6:30 p.m. in the NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen. It’s a rematch of a December win for the Tar Heels.

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Head Coach Sylvia Hatchell has some positive developments in her continued battle with leukemia.

“I’m actually doing fantastic. We’re waiting on my immune system to do one of my favorite words that I ever say: rebound. I love the word rebound. My immune system is coming up daily. We’re just waiting on it to rebound to full strength. It’s close to that,” Coach Hatchell says.

The Tar Heel coach, sidelined for the entirety of the season, says she’s been proud of Carolina’s progression this year, but has taken issue with a recent shocking snub of Carolina’s Diamond DeShields off the Coaches Association All-American ballot.

Coach Hatchell says it makes no sense at all that the National Freshman of the Year was left off the list.

“I am confident that when the WBCA committee meets on Tuesday, they will review the situation and take appropriate immediate action. There is no way that you can tell me that Diamond DeShields is not one of the top 52 players in this country,” Coach Hatchell says.

DeShields says she will only use her omission as motivation to get even better as a basketball player. She says she enjoys going out on the court and putting on a show for fans and spectators.

“I know God has blessed me with a bunch of talents. I am able to entertain with my athletic abilities and with my demeanor and swagger on the court. People love it or hate it. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m going to keep doing it. It’s just a blessing. It comes natural to me,” DeShields says.

And as for the rematch with the Gamecocks? DeShields says she really feels comfortable with the ins and outs of how South Carolina runs plays.

“I understand what’s at stake. I understand we already beat them. They’re going to come out ready to play. I understand their player tendencies, maneuvers on the court, and things of that sort,” DeShields says.

Sunday’s contest will be a clash of two different playing styles. North Carolina is a high-powered, up-tempo offense that likes to turn the game into a track meet while South Carolina prefers to slow the game down to a methodical grind.

Whoever is able to dictate the pace of play, is likely to find the winning formula and advance to the Elite Eight, where they will meet the winner between second-seeded Stanford and third-seeded Penn State.

And if the Tar Heels are able to scrape through the Stanford regional, Nashville will await them. Coach Hatchell says she might just be on the sidelines with them in the MusicCity.

“Dr. Voorhies, yesterday morning, he told me that when the team goes to the Final Four in Nashville, that is very doable,” Coach Hatchell says.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/tar-heels-face-battle-carolinas-coveted-elite-eight-slot/

Sweet Caroline! Tar Heel Women Topple Spartans, Book Trip To Stanford

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.

Transition score for Carolina (Elliott Rubin)

Transition score for Carolina (Elliott Rubin)

“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.

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/sweet-caroline-tar-heel-women-topple-spartans-advance-ncaa-tourney/

Sweet Sixteen Searching: Tar Heels Take On Spartans Tuesday Night

The North Carolina women’s basketball team will be gunning for a spot in the Sweet Sixteen when the No. 4 seed Tar Heels take on the No. 5 seed Michigan State Spartans Tuesday night at 7 p.m. in Carmichael Arena.

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The Tar Heel women are fortunate just to be still playing basketball this season after being down a daunting 18 points in their first round encounter with UT-Martin.

Sophomore Xylina McDaniel says she credits the Skyhawks for their incredible play and says the team knows it needs to get back to doing what they do best.

“I’m not going to say that we took them that lightly. They played one of the best games that they could ever play. Coming into this next game, we are going to focus on what we have to do, doing what we do best: play defense,” McDaniel says.

Associate Head Coach Andrew Calder says Michigan State will present all sorts of challenges to the Tar Heels Tuesday evening in the second round.

“They’re a very talented team and well-coached. They start five players who can shoot the three, which spreads the floor. They have a very good driving game because the floor is spread. They have a very good power game inside. We’re looking forward to the challenge,” Coach Calder says.

National Freshman of the Year Diamond DeShields says she’s happy to get her first NCAA Tournament game under her belt. She says she now fully grasps how much harder everybody plays when their tourney lives are on the line.

“I understand now that teams are going to be a lot different in this tournament than they were in the season, only because this is the NCAA Tournament. There’s a lot at stake. You’re going to get their best game. They’re probably going to shock themselves at times. Other teams are going to just play incredibly. You have to come out and play your best game, too,” DeShields says.

With a mere three points Tuesday, DeShields would become the ACC’s top scoring freshman in league history.

Slow starts have been a reoccurring theme for the Tar Heels this season. DeShields says she’s unsure of the root of this problem, but vows that will change against the Spartans.

“We haven’t figured it out yet. It’s still happening. Every game, like Coach said, is a new 40 minutes. Now is the time for us to pick it up and figure it out. You can expect a better start,” DeShields says.

UNC leads the all-time series with Michigan State 3-1, but dropped the last meeting between the two schools up in East Lansing the last time they squared off.

The showdown will be broadcast live on 97.9 FM, WCHL, streamed on Chapelboro.com, and nationally televised on ESPN2 starting at 7 p.m.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/sweet-sixteen-searching-tar-heels-take-spartans-tuesday-night/

Carolina Escape Artists Slip Past UT-Martin, Face MSU Next

The fourth-seeded North Carolina women’s basketball team overcame an 18-point second half deficit to slip past No. 13 seed UT-Martin 60-58 Sunday afternoon in Carmichael Arena and advance to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament.

With the victory, the Tar Heels improved to 25-9 on the season while UT-Martin finished at 24-8 with the defeat.

ACC Freshman of the Year Diamond DeShields posted 15 points to lead the Tar Heels while sophomore Xylina McDaniel contributed 14 points of her own to pace the incredible comeback for UNC.

It looked certain that Carolina was heading for a disappointing first round exit when trailing 50-32 midway through the second half, but DeShields says the flagrant foul, in which she took an elbow to the throat, “ignited a match” under the sluggish Tar Heels.

Associate Head Coach Andrew Calder says the sheer will of the players carried them through the contest where UNC’s ‘A-game’ was clearly absent.

But Carolina found a way to overcome Heather Butler’s 19-point output for UT-Martin and book a second round date with No. 5 seed Michigan State Tuesday back in Carmichael Arena.

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/carolina-escape-artists-slip-past-ut-martin-face-msu-next/

Carolina Women Open NCAA Play at Carmichael Sunday

The North Carolina women’s basketball team, 24-9 on the season, will begin the 2014 NCAA Tournament campaign Sunday at 3 p.m. in Carmichael Arena, facing 24-7 UT-Martin, tournament champions out of the Ohio Valley conference.

The Tar Heels are the fourth seed in the Stanford Region and could face a potential Sweet 16 matchup with South Carolina, a No. 1 seed, in the Sweet Sixteen. But for now, UNC is focused on trying to get past No. 13 UT-Martin.

Though extremely youthful, the Carolina coaching staff isn’t allowing the players to use that as an excuse.

“We have never said the words ‘we’re a young team’ to them. We give them no excuses. This is who we’ve got, this is who we play, this is who we are and then we go play. We try to play against the perfect game every time, we’re just trying to improve each game,” Coach Calder says.

In fact, the Tar Heels are averaging more than eighty points per game and are led by the National Freshman of the Year in Diamond DeShields, who has a penchant for saving her best stuff for the most high-profile games.

Carolina has appeared in 25 NCAA Tournaments and remarkably, has been a top-4 seed 19 of those times.

Sophomore forward Xylina McDaniel says she’s calm, cool and collected heading into the Big Dance.

“Having them behind me, I just know that I have nothing to worry about. So they’re actually calming me down and they don’t even know it. It’s exciting. This is the time of year that everybody waits for. It’s just exciting, not overwhelming, but exciting,” McDaniel says.

The UNC-UT-Martin first round contest will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/carolina-women-open-ncaa-play-carmichael-sunday/

Talented UNC Women Get NCAA No. 4 Seed, Face No. 13 UT-Martin Sunday

The 24-9 North Carolina women’s basketball team found out its NCAA Tournament fate Monday night. The Tar Heels are a No. 4 seed in the Stanford bracket.

But UNC will have the chance to play in the cozy confines of Carmichael Arena for the first couple rounds and will get their NCAA Tournament underway against No. 13 seed UT-Martin, 24-7 in the regular season.

The Tar Heels will tip things off at 3 p.m. Sunday in their NCAA opener. The Skyhawks claimed the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament title with a 78-66 victory over the Bruins of Belmont.

Also joining the Tar Heels in the Chapel Hill regional will be No. 5 seed Michigan State and No. 12 seed Hampton.

Only one school will book a ticket to the Sweet 16. The No. 1 seed in Carolina’s bracket is South Carolina, a team the Tar Heels beat earlier in the season. A deep run is possible.

It is still unknown whether Head Coach Sylvia Hatchell will join her team on the sidelines for the NCAA Tournament, but a return has not been ruled out by her doctors.

“This is a great opportunity for our team. We have a young team with a lot of talent and I’m glad we will be able to start the NCAA Tournament at home at Carmichael Arena,” Coach Hatchell says.

Click here for the complete bracket.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/talented-unc-women-get-ncaa-4-seed-face-13-ut-martin-sunday-carmichael/