North Carolina almost blows 17-point lead but hold on vs. Seminoles

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- It appeared North Carolina would have a brief stay in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament considering how it closed the regular season with four straight losses.

Instead, the No. 19 Tar Heels are suddenly building momentum.

Laura Broomfield had 15 points and 11 rebounds to help North Carolina beat No. 14 Florida State 78-65 in Friday night's quarterfinals, sending the Tar Heels into the semifinals for the 26th time in 34 years.

Italee Lucas added 13 points for the tournament's No. 6 seed, which blew nearly all of a 17-point lead in the second half before pulling away late against the cold-shooting Seminoles.

It wasn't that long ago that the Tar Heels (24-7) dominated this event, winning four straight championships from 2005-08 before Maryland and Duke won the past two years. Fifth-year senior Jessica Breland played on two of those title winners, while seniors Lucas and Cetera DeGraffenreid were freshmen on the last team to win one.

Last year, North Carolina lost in the first round to Maryland.

"We have a sense of urgency," said Breland, who had 12 points. "We all don't want to go home. We all have the same goal and we know we can do it."

Next up is a matchup in Saturday's semifinals with 10th-ranked Miami, the tournament's No. 2 seed. The Hurricanes, behind high-scoring duo Shenise Johnson and Riquna Williams, started the Tar Heels' four-game slide with a 78-66 road win on Feb. 13 in Chapel Hill.

In that game, Miami hit 10 3-pointers, while the Tar Heels went 2-for-22 from behind the arc.

"We know Miami is a great team and I think overall they've got the two best players in the league," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "It's going to be a challenge. We know that, but we're excited to play."

Cierra Bravard had 20 points and 12 rebounds to lead third-seeded Florida State (23-7), which flirted with making the second-biggest halftime comeback in tournament history. But the Seminoles shot just 26 percent and missed their last 18 shots for their second straight one-and-done showing in Greensboro.

Their last field goal came with almost 11 minutes to play.

"We've got to stay together and just keep playing hard," Bravard said. "I don't think we really attacked the basket or got the ball inside as much as we should have, and we got outplayed tonight."

North Carolina led 39-24 at halftime and by 17 points early in the second half before the Seminoles rallied.

Florida State got five points from Bravard and a pair of 3-pointers from Courtney Ward during a 17-4 run midway through the half. Christian Hunnicutt capped the run with a pair of free throws that pulled Florida State to within one at 58-57 with 9:28 left.

But Ward's second 3 with 10:52 to play was the Seminoles' last basket.

And once Bravard went to the bench with her fourth foul with about nine minutes left, the Seminoles lost momentum.

Lucas pulled up against Tay'ler Mingo in the lane and buried a jumper to push the lead to four, and then DeGraffenreid had a transition layup off a turnover to make it 65-59 with 7:36 left. Then, after a pair of free throws from Chelsea Davis, the Tar Heels scored five straight points, getting a basket inside from Chay Shegog and two free throws from Broomfield to make it 70-61 with 5:50 left.

Florida State got no closer than seven from there, misfiring on shot after shot down the stretch and never putting pressure back on the Tar Heels.

"I thought we got really good shots and we knocked a bunch down to close the gap," FSU coach Sue Semrau said. "I think our legs were tired. It did hurt us with Natasha [Howard] in foul trouble, but that's part of the game."

The foul trouble actually hit both teams hard up front, though the Tar Heels had enough depth to handle it. Shegog, Breland and Waltiea Rolle all ended up with four fouls, while Broomfield fouled out with 5:32 left -- part of a game that had 48 fouls, a tournament-record 56 made free throws and 67 attempts.

North Carolina shot just 38 percent but forced the Seminoles into 23 turnovers and converted those into 18 points -- many coming off their trapping pressure in the first half.