North Carolina aims to deter Card’s Final Four hopes

Second-seeded Stanford women’s basketball (32-3) will aim to continue its road to the Final Four on Tuesday night as it takes on the fourth-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels (27-9) in the regional final. The Cardinal will be seeking to advance to their sixth Final Four in seven years.

Since being booted early from the Pac-12 Tournament, the Cardinal have been on a mission not to face a similar disappointment to end their season. The team played one of its best and most complete games of the year in its 82-57 Sweet Sixteen victory against Penn State.

Lili Thompson (above) impressed with her defense in shutting down one of Penn State's leading scorers in Stanford's victory in the Sweet 16. (MIKE KHEIR/The Stanford Daily)

Freshman Lili Thompson (above) impressed with her defense, shutting down one of Penn State’s leading scorers in Stanford’s victory over Penn State in the Sweet 16. (MIKE KHEIR/The Stanford Daily)

“Our experiences last year losing in the Sweet 16 do bring in some kind of experience,” said senior guard Sara James. “Like [head coach] Tara [VanDerveer] always says, ‘We play with a chip on our shoulder.’ We’re not happy just getting to this Elite Eight game. We’re excited to get back to the Final Four.”

It will require a similarly strong effort in the upcoming round to advance against the Tar Heels and return to the Final Four. North Carolina is led by star freshman Diamond DeShields, who averages 18.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. However, during North Carolina’s last matchup on Sunday, DeShields rolled her right ankle and aggravated a left knee injury. The Tar Heels will decide near tipoff whether DeShields will appear in Tuesday night’s game.

Assuming she plays as she is expected to, Stanford’s defense will have a big task on its hands. DeShields’ athleticism, scoring ability and 6-foot-1 frame makes her a tough matchup for nearly any defender in the nation. In order for the Cardinal to advance, they must limit DeShields and the rest of the Tar Heels on the offensive end. The Tar Heels boast a mix of size, athleticism and skills that make them very dangerous, especially in the open court.

“Lili [Thompson] sort of headlined our game yesterday with her defense and it will be another challenge for us to see who will step up and defend DeShields, because she is very talented from the wing, especially in her mid-range,” said senior forward Chiney Ogwumike.

“[North Carolina is] a very athletic team,” VanDerveer said. “They’re very explosive. They’re a little bit unpredictable in a dangerous way. They make a lot happen with their athleticism, in transition, on the glass, creating one-on-one shots. We are just opposite teams.”

Stanford will once again be led by Ogwumike as she attempts to dominate both ends of the floor like she has done so many times this season. In the Cardinal’s Sweet 16 victory against Penn State, Ogwumike contributed 29 points, 15 rebounds, three assists and two steals to the Cardinal’s effort. Freshman Lili Thompson also shone on the defensive end, effectively shutting down Penn State guard Maggie Lucas.

With the game being played on their home floor at Maples Pavilion, at which the Sweet 16 matchup was sold out, the Cardinal will certainly have the benefit of home-court advantage. However, North Carolina will be playing with extra motivation as well. If the Tar Heels advance to the Final Four, head coach Sylvia Hatchell is expected to rejoin the team after having taken a leave of absence this year while battling leukemia.

The game will tip off at 6 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN. The winner of the matchup will face first-seeded Connecticut.

Contact Lauren Lockett at llockett ‘at’ stanford.edu.