March 6, 2009
Final Stats | Notes | Box Score
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) -North Carolina rebounded from a sluggish start by, well, rebounding.
Jessica Breland had 22 points and 11 rebounds, and the 11th-ranked Tar Heels shook off some shaky early play by dominating the glass in a 74-55 rout of Clemson in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament on Friday.
Rashanda McCants added 19 points and Italee Lucas had 10 points and 11 rebounds for the fourth-seeded Tar Heels (26-5), who overcame their early struggles with a remarkably efficient run to start the second half, built a 59-33 rebounding advantage and claimed their 14th straight victory in the series.
“We knew that if we win the boards, we win the game,” Breland said.
Did they ever. The plus-26 rebounding margin was a season high, and sent the four-time defending league tournament champions into the semifinals Saturday, when they will face either Wake Forest or No. 4 Maryland.
Freshman Bryelle Smith scored 13 points for the 12th-seeded Tigers (14-17). They surprised fifth-seeded Georgia Tech in the opening round, but haven’t won multiple games at an ACC tournament since they won their most recent league title in 1999.
Yet they put quite a scare into North Carolina for a while – at least, until the Tar Heels shook off the slow start that accompanied their morning tip-off.
And they didn’t even need a dose of coach Sylvia Hatchell’s wrath to snap out of the first-half funk that left them leading just 31-29 at the break.
“I don’t really jump on them too much, like I used to,” Hatchell said. “This group, you can’t fuss at them too much … or you just lose them. … We definitely just wanted to keep the tempo up, and I think that was good for us.”
North Carolina opened the final 20 minutes with a 16-2 burst that included points on nine of its first 10 possessions. Breland and McCants each knocked down a pair of jumpers to lead the surge, and Lucas’ layup near the 17-minute mark pushed North Carolina’s lead into double figures for good. Breland later pushed the lead to 20 with a layup with 9:15 left.
“They just went out and got everything they missed,” Tigers coach Cristy McKinney said.
Meanwhile, the Tigers couldn’t get anything going offensively when it counted. They missed 15 of 17 shots during the first 11 1/2 minutes of the second half, and shot just 22 percent after the break.
“Our pressure defense was much better in the second half,” Hatchell said. “We took them out of some things that they wanted to do, and we were a little more aggressive doing what we wanted to do. Our decision-making was a little bit better. And rebounding was big.”
Freshman Chay Shegog added 10 points for North Carolina, which claimed its ACC-record 51st victory in the league tournament, and 13th in a row in postseason play at the Greensboro Coliseum. The Tar Heels haven’t lost a tournament game here since they were beaten by Duke in the 2004 league title game.
And coming off an overtime loss five days earlier at rival Duke, they figured to take out those frustrations on a Tigers team that they beat 83-74 two months earlier. But Clemson hung around longer than expected.
“I don’t think anybody expected us to come out and play like we did in the first half,” Clemson guard Lele Hardy said.
The Tar Heels’ slow start was perhaps a product of the early game time. While their struggles to take care of the ball were expected – North Carolina ranks 294th nationally with an average of nearly 21 turnovers – their briefly shaky offensive production wasn’t.
North Carolina hit just two field goals during the final 8 minutes of the half, and 15 of their 21 turnovers came in the first half.
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