Another gem for UNC's DeShields


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Make it two in a row for Diamond DeShields and North Carolina in the NCAA tournament.

Not wins, mind you. Sure, the fourth-seeded Tar Heels and their precocious freshman have a couple of those in succession, too. And Tuesday's 62-53 win against fifth-seeded Michigan State means a return to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011 and a date opposite top-seeded South Carolina in California. But that is in some ways nothing more than bookkeeping.

The real streak is that for the second game in a row, North Carolina put on a show. It's what the Tar Heels do best. Good, bad and everything between.

But it is always show. On at least that count, they are consistent.

And when it comes to DeShields, it's usually a good show.

After a lackluster showing from the team and its star in the opening round against Tennessee-Martin, pushed to the final seconds by an underdog that left Chapel Hill feeling like it deserved a win in a thriller, North Carolina came out of the gates fast against the Big Ten co-champions. Nobody was more Usain Bolt-like than the freshman.

She finished her first tournament game with three made field goals. She had three inside of five minutes this night and finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds, her first career double-double.

"I think UT-Martin poked the beehive there," Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said. "And we got a swarming bunch of bees coming at us early. The biggest one of the bunch was Diamond DeShields. What an impressive freshman. She certainly deserves national freshman of the year.

"I mean, she was a one-man wrecking crew in the first half and a very, very special talent."

She is that and more. She isn't college basketball's best player. Not yet, at least. She is its biggest entertainer.

Which is fitting for a team that isn't basketball's best. Not yet, at least. But it may be its most entertaining or at least its least predictable.

With a little more than 12 minutes remaining in the first half of Tuesday's game and North Carolina in front 16-9 courtesy of 10 quick points from DeShields, she turned the corner on a drive from the top of the key, lost her balance in what may have been an attempt to sell a foul call and slammed headfirst into the leg of Michigan State's Branndais Agee. Down for several moments, she eventually made her way back to the locker room for further evaluation. Or possibly meditation.

"I was just kind of back there trying to regroup, gather my thoughts, get my life together," DeShields quipped.

When she came back to the bench with about eight minutes remaining in the half, the crowd began to voice its appreciation at her return. She motioned with her hands for them to make it just a little bit louder.

Willis Reed probably didn't do that. But it's a new world.

Even she professes not to know from whence her inner entertainer springs.

"I have no idea," DeShields said. "I know God has blessed me with a bunch of talents, and I think that's one of them. I think I'm able to entertain with my athletic abilities and with, I guess, just my demeanor and my swagger on the court.

"People love it, people hate it. It don't matter to me; I'm going to keep doing it."

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