DeGraffenreid key to North Carolina's success
Posted: Sunday Mar 30, 2008 10:44 PM
As if losing point-guard Ivory Latta to graduation wasn't bad enough, North Carolina then lost Latta's heir apparent, Alex Miller, when the senior tore ligaments in her left knee in the fourth game of this season.
The Tar Heels were forced to rely on freshman Cetera DeGraffenreid to run the offense, and now North Carolina is one victory away from a third straight Final Four appearance.
"When Alex went out, we were a little - not worried - but, you know, how will she transition into playing more minutes and being a floor general for us?'' North Carolina center LaToya Pringle said. "It was a very easy transition. ... I don't think she had any trouble with that at all.''
DeGraffenreid has started 29 games this season for North Carolina (33-2), which has won its last 16 games in a row. She's averaging 11.8 points per game on 44 percent shooting. Her 109 assists are second best on the team, behind only Rashanda McCants' 114. She's also second on the team in steals with 75, trailing only McCants' 80.
North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said Connecticut's Maya Moore is unquestionably the best freshman player in the nation, but that DeGraffenreid would have to be second.
"She's done a tremendous job for us and she doesn't get the credit she deserves,'' Hatchell said. "Look what she's done for our team, where we are - undefeated in the conference, won the ACC championship and now we're here playing to go to the Final Four.''
WELCOME BACK: Connecticut's Brittany Hunter came up big in her latest return to North Carolina.
The injury-prone senior transfer from Duke scored 10 points because the Huskies were intent on pounding the ball into her down low. She hit layups on three consecutive trips downcourt early during the 20-1 run that carried UConn past Old Dominion and into the Greensboro Regional final.
Hunter tore her lateral meniscus as a freshman at Duke in 2003-04 and the injury cost her seven games. She transferred and sat out the following season, and during three seasons at UConn has averaged roughly five points per game.
During three NCAA tournament games this March, though, she's averaging 10.
"Unfortunately for Brittany, it's been kind of a frustrating career for her,'' coach Geno Auriemma said. "The time she spent at Duke and the time she spent at Connecticut, there hasn't been any time where she hasn't been injured and been able to just go out and play the game she loves to play. She hasn't been 100 percent healthy, but this year we had a chance to glimpse a little bit of what Brittany could've been and what she still can be.
"She's just a great athlete, and she's grown up a lot the last two years. Right now she's playing with a sense of purpose. She's matured a lot, and I think that showed today. That what you need to show at this time of the year.''
OUCH!: Atlantic 10 player of the year Kimberly Beck played the final 8 minutes of her George Washington career with a bandage on her chin after Kia Vaughn - Rutgers' 6-foot-4 center - fell on her during their Greensboro Regional semifinal.
"There was a scramble for the ball, I came up with it and they started trapping me and tried to tie it up,'' Beck said. "I hit the floor and (Vaughn) fell on top of me. ... It's part of the game.''
That collision was the most visible evidence of just how physical the low-scoring contest was, and GW coach Joe McKeown said it shaped up just as he expected.
"Bring your helmet and shoulder pads,'' McKeown said.
GOLD-ONWUDE'S DECISION: Growing up in Queens, N.Y., Rosalyn Gold-Onwude didn't know anything about West Coast basketball until Stanford started recruiting the guard relatively late in the process. By then, Gold-Onwude had developed a strong relationship with Maryland coach Brenda Frese, Stanford's opponent in Monday night's Spokane Regional final.
"Maryland had been recruited me since the end of my freshman year. We had a pretty good relationship, (and) I was very serious about going there,'' Gold-Onwude said. "Then Stanford started recruiting me and you can't say no to Stanford.''
Stanford and Maryland were the only two schools Gold-Onwude invited into her home. It was the sales pitch from Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer that finally sold the talented guard on heading across the country to California.
"After they left I canceled all my other home and official visits, and my father said 'if you don't go to Stanford, I have no daughter,' all dramatic like,'' Gold-Onwude said, relaying the humorous moment.
Of course, Gold-Onwude spurned the Terrapins, and Maryland won the national title in what would have been her freshman year. She also missed the 2006-07 season after major knee surgery.
But she has no regrets about the decision to come to Stanford.
"I'm blessed,'' she said. "I'm thankful for what I've gotten.''
MAKING NICE: After her team knocked out Oklahoma in the second round, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw carried through on a promise to wear the Sooners' primary color to woo some of the Oklahoma City crowd.
McGraw had a crimson necklace and high heels, and a crimson belt to go with her black shirt and grey skirt.
AP Sports Writers Joedy McCreary in Greensboro, N.C., Tim Booth in Spokane, Wash., Jeff Latzke and Murray Evans in Oklahoma City, and Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.