STANFORD, Calif. (AP) - Diamond DeShields sat down long enough to have her ankle taped up as tightly as possible, then later took a quick break to tend to a left knee injury that she aggravated. Just as North Carolina coach Andrew Calder was about to sit DeShields for the remainder of the first half, she talked him right out of it.
DeShields escaped two close calls with injury to score 19 points, leading North Carolina one win closer to a sweet reunion with healing coach Sylvia Hatchell by beating top-seeded South Carolina 65-58 in the Stanford Regional semifinals on Sunday night.
“I didn’t want to have that burden on my shoulders not having done everything I could to contribute to the team win. I didn’t hold my team back,” DeShields said. “Coach trusted me, trusted my instincts. He put me out there and he gave me a chance.”
Brittany Rountree converted a pair of free throws with 1:14 left and two more at the 36.4-second mark to help seal it for the No. 4 seed Tar Heels (27-9), who backed up their December victory against the Gamecocks with another on the NCAA tournament stage.
The Tar Heels will play in Tuesday night’s regional final against second-seeded Stanford (32-3), an 82-57 winner on its home court against No. 3 seed Penn State in Sunday’s first game.
Calder trusted DeShields to stay in the game.
“She got slightly injured, but she’s a competitor like you can’t believe and you’re not going to hold her back from being out there, and she’ll be out there Tuesday night,” Calder said.
Alaina Coates hit several key baskets down the stretch on the way to 22 points for South Carolina (29-5), held to 37.7-percent shooting while committing 13 turnovers.
North Carolina players lingered well after the final buzzer hand handshakes, with DeShields holding Stephanie Mavunga in a long embrace. Mavunga, who contributed 13 points, nine rebounds and three steals, then lifted Jessica Washington into the air as the guard raised her arm in triumph.
North Carolina needs one more win to be reunited with Hatchell, whose doctors have said she could travel to the Final Four in Nashville, Tenn., after recently undergoing her final chemotherapy session for leukemia.
Hatchell hasn’t coached this season after being diagnosed with leukemia in October, though she does plenty of game planning with associate coach Andrew Calder by phone. She texts her players encouraging words before games, too.
“She said, ‘I have faith in you, I’m proud of you, go out and play hard,’” DeShields said. “Sometimes you forget that she’s not here with us. Partly because she hasn’t coached me.”
DeShields threw everything at advancing her team to Tuesday night’s regional final against second-seeded Stanford (32-3).
The Atlantic Coast Conference’s top freshman blocked South Carolina’s opening shot of the second half, and jumped in the passing lane for a steal six minutes later.
The arena fell silent when DeShields first went down with an apparent right ankle injury just 2:23 into the game. DeShields returned five minutes later and hit a jumper to push North Carolina’s lead to 11-6.