Michigan St.-North Carolina Preview
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) North Carolina star freshman Diamond DeShields struggled for much of her NCAA tournament debut. It was a much different story for Michigan State’s Aerial Powers.
Their teams meet Tuesday in the NCAA tournament’s second round, with each all-conference rookie knowing she’ll play a big factor in determining whether her team reaches the round of 16 in the Stanford Regional.
Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant says a long season full of tough games has prepared both freshmen for this moment. She says when it comes to minutes played and experience, they’re practically juniors at this point.
DeShields averaged 17.9 points, including scoring a UNC freshman-record 38 points at North Carolina State on Feb. 16.
But the 6-foot-1 wing didn’t manage a field goal in the first half of Sunday’s win against UT Martin. She then had 13 of her 15 points during the game-turning run that helped the fourth-seeded Tar Heels (25-9) rally from 18 down to win 60-58.
DeShields finished just 3 for 12 from the field.
Asked about her biggest takeaway from her first tournament game, she said it was ”getting it out of the way” and overcoming her nerves.
”I understood I didn’t want my season ending in the last 20 minutes,” DeShields said. ”So really I just had to get a grip on myself and understand there were certain things I needed to do as an individual to contribute to the team’s success and I didn’t do that in the first half.”
Powers, a 6-foot redshirt freshman averaging a team-best 13.8 points, had no such troubles for the fifth-seeded Spartans (23-9). She missed last year with a torn left Achilles’ tendon, but dominated Hampton for 26 points and set a tournament record for the program with 18 rebounds.
Powers, who went 10 for 18 from the field, earned her 10th double-double.
”I didn’t let it get to me that it’s a tournament game even though you lose and you go home, which is very big,” Powers said. ”I did not let that get in my mind and affect my play. It’s like, take it as another game.”
Here are five things to watch in Tuesday’s Michigan State-North Carolina game:
SCORING: The Tar Heels average 80 points per game and want to get out in transition to push the tempo. The Spartans average 74 points on the year and scored 91 points – the program’s second-best total in an NCAA game – in the rout of Hampton. Will the Spartans run with the Tar Heels? ”I don’t know if it’s really about running with them as much as it’s trying to stop their run game,” Merchant said.
GRAY REGROUPS?: DeShields wasn’t the only UNC freshman to have slow NCAA debut. Second-leading scorer Allisha Gray (14.2 points) managed nine points while taking only five shots against UT Martin. The Tar Heels need the 6-foot guard to pick up her production, similar to when she had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament against Maryland – the team UNC assistant Andrew Calder said compares to Michigan State.
FREE THROWS: Getting to the foul line against UNC’s aggressive defense could bode well for the Spartans. Michigan State is 19-0 this season when it shoots more free throws than its opponent. The Spartans made 71 percent of their free throws this season and opponents have averaged more than 22 free throws per game against UNC.
REBOUNDING: Michigan State was second in the Big Ten in rebounding margin at plus-7.4 per game, while North Carolina was in the middle of the pack in the ACC. The Tar Heels have streaky shooters so the Spartans could make things difficult by controlling the glass and not letting the Tar Heels get extra looks to build momentum. ”If we play defense and rebound,” senior Klarissa Bell said, ”that’s going to be monumental for us.”
HOME-COURT ADVANTAGE: North Carolina lost five times at home this year, including one to a Virginia Tech team that was near the bottom of the ACC in February. Still, playing in familiar Carmichael Arena could be key for a young group still figuring out how to handle the increased intensity of the NCAA tournament.