STANFORD, Calif. -- There was a song and dance coming from the Stanford locker room after the second-seeded Cardinal dispatched No. 3 seed Penn State 82-57 on Sunday afternoon.
"I didn't recognize any of the dance moves, but I know they were happy," Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said.
In North Carolina's locker room, there was some ice and a moment to sit down and rest after a 65-58 win over top-seeded South Carolina that was far more of a grind than the Cardinal's coast to the Elite Eight for the ninth time in the past 11 years.
"We had to battle hard, very hard," North Carolina associate head coach Andrew Calder said. "It was a physical game, the way we wanted to play it."
The Tar Heels became the second No. 4 seed of the day to send a top seed home early, jumping out to an early lead on South Carolina and then withstanding the Gamecocks' inevitable charge at the finish. It was a prize fight of a game for the Tar Heels (26-9), who fought through foul trouble and a pair of injuries to their best player to advance to the Elite Eight.
These Tar Heels are used to adversity by now, starting with the news that head coach Sylvia Hatchell would be taking a leave to get treatment for leukemia, to the adjustment of a roster full of freshmen, to a stretch in late January to early February in which they lost three straight games to unranked teams.
But the team that finished fifth in the Atlantic Coast Conference now is one win away from the program's first Final Four since 2007 because of its gritty ability to get up off the mat.
Diamond DeShields, the national freshman of the year, went down for the first time with an ankle injury just 2:23 into the game. She hobbled off again after "reinjuring a previous knee injury" with 7:51 to go in the first half.
She came off the floor after both and convinced Calder to put her back in.
"I told him I was ready to play," said DeShields, who said she will be ready Tuesday against the Cardinal. "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 didn't think I was holding the team back with my injuries."
She finished with 19 points, but didn't score in the final seven minutes, ceding the offense to fellow freshman center Stephanie Mavunga, who finished with 13 points, nine rebounds and a huge 3-point play with 2:40 to play to move North Carolina back out to a 59-51 lead after South Carolina had closed to within two. Mavunga played the final 16:49 of the game with three and then, ultimately, four fouls.
Junior guard Brittany Rountree also played a huge role in the final minutes, hitting 5-of-6 free throws down the stretch to keep South Carolina at arm's length.
The disappointment was evident from South Carolina, a No. 1 seed for the first time in school history looking to prove it belonged in the conversation with the national title contenders.
"This probably won't be the last time you see a South Carolina women's basketball team at this late stage of the NCAA tournament," said South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, who led the Gamecocks to the regional semifinal in two of the past three seasons. "We are going to look toward our future."