GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The first three rounds of the ACC tournament feel like they were scripted to the specifications of the powers-that-be. There were tight second-round games but no upsets. The quarterfinals were mostly blowouts (except for a classic final game), but it set up a semifinal Saturday featuring the three traditional Triangle powers (Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State) and the interlopers from Indiana, Notre Dame. The fact that departing ACC member Maryland got bounced in the quarterfinals certainly made few shed tears. Let's take a quick look at the first three rounds, including a quick recap, the player of the game, and a key stat.
Game 1: No. 13 Clemson 69, No. 12 Virginia Tech 56
Recap: The Tigers surprised what should have been a motivated Virginia Tech squad by going on a 13-0 run in the first half and blowing out to a 17-point halftime lead. The punchless Hokies struggled to get the ball to star player, Uju Ugoka, in the first half. Ugoka wound up with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but most of those points came long after the game was decided. Clemson center Nyliah Jamison-Myers matched Ugoka with 19 points and seven rebounds as the Tigers' lead never dipped below nine in the second stanza.
Player of the Game: Nikki Dixon, Clemson. She had 22 points, 12 rebounds and four assists, doing most of her damage at the foul line as the Hokes struggled to prevent her from repeatedly beating them to the rim. This was Dixon at her best, using her quickness and all-around skills to dominate her opponent.
Stat of the Game: 21-28 v. 7-13. That's free throws and attempts for Clemson and Virginia Tech, respectively. It points out how aggressive the Tigers were in attacking the rim as well as how slow-footed the Hokies were in trying to stop them.
Game 2: No. 10 Virginia 74, No. 15 Boston College 59
Recap: The Hoos got back-to-back treys from wing Ataira Franklin at the end of the first half to extend Virginia's lead to seven. Multiple Boston College turnovers at the beginning of the second half put them in a double-digit hole from which they never truly escaped. The Eagles cut the lead down to nine on a few occasions, but they lacked the personnel to make a sustainable run. The Eagles were missing their leader and most versatile player in Kristen Doherty (out with the flu), and their already depleted roster was worn down by a deeper Virginia squad. Virginia had nice inside-outside balance with post Sarah Imovbioh registering 14 points and seveb rebounds to supplement the perimeter offensive production of Franklin and the disruptive play of guards Lexie Gerson and Kelsey Wolfe.
Player of the Game: Ataira Franklin, Virginia. 23 points, five rebounds, three assists. Franklin hit key shots that shifted momentum and was part of a group of guards who moved the ball well and played tough defense.
Stat of the Game: Bench scoring: Virginia 12, BC 2. This speaks to just how depleted the Eagles' roster is, as none of their reserves are really capable of putting up numbers against ACC teams.
Game 3: No. 11 Wake Forest 72,No. 14 Pitt 58
Recap: The Panthers gave Wake all they could handle for a half, before the one-two punch of Chelsea Douglas and Dearica Hamby allowed Wake to pull away. Pitt's Asia Logan made up for the struggles of Panther point guard and leader Brianna Kiesel, putting up 18 points and pulling down 12 rebounds. However, Hamby and Douglas have dominated their peers all season long, and this game was no exception. Hamby killed the Panthers inside, while Douglas bombed away from three.
Player of the Game: Dearica Hamby, Wake Forest. She had 25 points, 16 rebounds, eight assists and two steals. Pitt tried to jam her and double-team her for much of the game, and Hamby not only got her points, she created opportunities for her teammates.
Stat of the Game: 45 of 72. Hamby and Douglas combined for 45 of Wake's 72 points, which was actually more balanced than their team usually is. Still, the imbalance created by Hamby's and Douglas's dominance, on the one hand, and the lesser offensive contributions of their teammates, on the other, points to why Wake struggled against elite opponents this season.
Game 4: No. 5 Syracuse 63, Clemson 53
Recap: The Tigers played 35 minutes of inspired basketball, giving the Orange all they wanted before Syracuse pulled away in the last six minutes of the game. The Orange were rescued by their reserve players, as stars Brianna Butler and Brittney Sykes were a combined 8-27 from the field. Shooter La'Shay Taft had three key treys to stretch out Clemson's defense, opening it up enough to allow Sykes to operate a bit in the second half. Nikki Dixon had 15 points but seven turnovers, as the Orange press forced 15 Tiger turnovers.
Player of the Game: Brittney Sykes, Syracuse. She had 20 points, five rebounds and two assists, including six straight points down the stretch. It's a sign of her maturity that she helped seal the win after struggling for most of the game.
Stat of the Game: 22-10. That was Syracuse's edge in second-chance points, thanks to 17 offensive rebounds. That advantage helped offset poor shooting by the Orange, and it was a team-wide concern, as nine different players had offensive boards.
Game 5: No. 9 Florida State 72, No. 8 Miami 67 (OT).
Recap: This was a heartbreaker of a loss for the 'Canes, who had already wrapped up a WNIT bid and were hoping to improve on that postseason prospect. They led throughout most of the game, thanks to a balanced attack led by their wings. Florida State took a late lead at 55-54 thanks to Natasha Howard hitting a couple of foul shots, but Miami's Necole Sterling drained a three at the very end of regulation to send it into overtime. Seminole point guard Cheetah Delgado had a huge game with 20 points, including a knockout three in overtime.
Player of the Game: Natasha Howard, Florida State. The spidery forward crept her way to 30 points, 16 rebounds, six steals and four blocks.
Stat of the Game: 42. That's the combined number of turnovers in this game, as both teams were aggressive but also sloppy. The Canes had three killer turnovers in overtime that helped FSU clinch the win.
Game 6: No. 7 Georgia Tech 77, No. 10 Virginia 76
Recap: The first tight game of the tournament resulted in a bizarre ending. Georgia Tech center Nariah Taylor had a massive block late in the game with the Hoos down three. It was such a great block, that she lost control of her emotions and started taunting the Virginia bench. She was whistled for a technical, and UVa's Ataira Franklin hit two free throws and had a chance to win the game with three seconds to go. However, Tech knew the ball was coming to her, especially with Kelsey Wolfe fouling out of the game. Franklin got off a desperation attempt and Tech hung on to win. Ty Marshall and Kaela Davis combined for 54 of Tech's 77 points, while Virginia post Sarah Imovbioh had 27 points and 10 rebounds. Georgia Tech seemed to have the game well in hand in the second half, blowing out to a 14-point lead at the midway point. Virginia got back into the game at the foul line, as back-to-back three-point plays by Imovbioh brought Virginia within two. But it was also a three-point play by Aaliyah Whiteside that gave Tech that 77-74 lead with 13 seconds left before that last, weird sequence.
Player of the Game: Ty Marshall, Georgia Tech. The wily senior had 26 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and three steals. Once again, Marshall did all the dirty work for her team, scoring fairly evenly in both halves and helping the Yellow Jackets to +7 on the boards.
Stat of the Game: 26-27 -- that was Virginia's performance at the foul line, which was nearly, but not quite, enough for them to pull off the upset.
Game 7: No. 6 North Carolina 69, No. 3 Wake Forest 65
Recap: As the Heels and Deacs played in the Coliseum, Greensboro was being pelted by a rare March ice and snow storm. It was bad enough to snap branches, bring down trees and wipe out power lines. In fact, the Coliseum was running on generator power, which led to a 23-minute delay early in the second half when the overhead lights went out. It's hard to say what, if any effect the delay had on the game, which was close when the lights went out, because the momentum Wake had built with a 12-point halftime lead had all but dissipated at that point. The Heels led for most of the final 10 minutes of the game, but it was their charge and Wake's scoring drought at the beginning of the second half that won the day for them.
UNC's Diamond DeShields, the ACC Rookie of the Year in a deep class, was the only Heel in double figures with 17 points. Meanwhile, Wake's Dearica Hamby had 29 points and eight rebounds, while senior guard Chelsea Douglas posted 20 in her final collegiate game.
Player of the Game: Diamond DeShields, North Carolina. DeShields hit the go-ahead basket, a three, with under two minutes left and then hit two foul shots to put the game away after Wake had crept within two with 11 seconds left on the clock.
Stat of the Game: 25-17. That's points off turnovers, generated by 15 UNC steals. The Heels love to flood the passing lanes and the Deacs were too often careless with the ball.
Game 8: No. 4 North Carolina State 79, No. 5 Syracuse 63
Recap: In another game in which the weather conditions caused delays, the Wolfpack Women stormed back from a 48-39 second-half deficit with an 18-0 run to take complete command of the game against the Orange. Despite losing leading scorer Markeisha Gatling to an injury midway through the second half, State got some hefty contributions from deep reserve Breezy Williams and managed to extend its lead. Williams hit two crucial threes and had a weakside stickback that took the air out of the Orange's sails as their legs looked heavier the further they fell behind. State's Kody Burke was everywhere on the floor, finishing with 21 points and 16 rebounds, while Syracuse's Brittney Sykes registered 14 points and eight rebounds, keeping her team in the game as long as she could.
Player of the Game: Markeisha Gatling, North Carolina State. Gatling really went to work after Syracuse center Shakeya Leary went out of the game with four fouls. Gatling victimized the replacement, slender frosh post Briana Day, repeatedly on her way to a career-high 28 points to go with seven rebounds.
Stat of the Game: 40-24. That's points in the paint, with the advantage going to NC State. Syracuse's lack of scoring balance sent the Orange into long droughts, while the Wolfpack were successful in going inside-out.
Game 9: No. 1 Notre Dame 83, No. 9 Florida State 57
Recap: This game was close for about nine minutes, as Florida State's Natasha Howard gave the Irish trouble in the early going. However, this was really just a matter of Notre Dame finding its sea legs, because after FSU took a 12-11 lead, the Irish promptly ripped off a 21-0 run. Back-to-back treys by reserve guard Michaela Mabrey triggered the run, and a combination of ruthlessly efficient offense and an opportunistic defense made it look like the 'Noles were running in mud and the Irish were walking on air. Howard managed 29 points, but the rest of her team combined for just 28. Meanwhile, the Irish put four players into double figures and played no one more than 30 minutes.
Player of the Game: Jewell Loyd, Notre Dame. The acrobatic guard had 17 points and five rebounds, scoring in a variety of ways while barely working up a sweat.
Stat of the Game: 23-12. That's points off turnovers. Notre Dame forced 20 Florida State turnovers and turned them into 23 points. It's not like Notre Dame was even pressuring the ball; they simply feasted on lazy passes and shaky ballhandling, make FSU pay for every mistake and committing very few on their end.
Game 10: No. 2 Duke 82, No. 7 Georgia Tech 52
Recap: The Blue Devils jammed Georgia Tech's shooters and funneled their guards inside where the array of Duke bigs combined for 13 blocked shots. Essentially, the Jackets were completely stymied on offense, as Duke took away everything that was easy. It took a while for Duke to translate this into a working lead, but a trey by Ka'lia Johnson at the halftime buzzer gave the Devils a nine-point edge. Duke scored the first two baskets of the second half to push its lead into double figures, and from there the Devils used balanced scoring to slowly turn this game into a rout. Four players logged double figures for the Devils, who held the Jackets to just 24-percent field-goal shooting.
Player of the Game: Elizabeth Williams, Duke. The center had 15 points, four rebounds, five assists and five blocks. She was Duke's fulcrum, the foundation of its defense as well as a player who redirected the ball wisely when double-teamed and even used her dribble to help break Georgia Tech's press.
Stat of the Game: 11-40. That's what Tech guards Ty Marshall and Kaela Davis combined to shoot against Duke. Even worse, the rest of the Jackets' team shot just six-of-32 from the floor.
Game 11: No. 6 North Carolina 73, No. 3 Maryland 70
Recap: The Tar Heels survived a furious Maryland comeback, holding fast when the Terps had a chance to take the lead three times in the final minute of play. Maryland star Alyssa Thomas missed two shots and turned the ball over and Heel guard Brittany Rountree sank two crucial foul shots in the final seconds to preserve the win. The Heels went on several runs and established double-digit leads, forcing Maryland to scratch and claw its way back into the game in possession after possession. The Heels held the Terps at bay for a long time because Maryland's two starting posts, Brionna Jones and Alicia DeVaughn, were both in deep foul trouble. With no one to block out the ultra-quick Heels, UNC was able to punish the Terps on the offensive boards and star Diamond DeShields did a lot of good work in the low post. Thomas had 24 points and became Maryland's all-time leading scorer with 2258 points. The Heels got a double-double from Allisha Gray. UNC's posts fought Maryland's frontcourt to a standstill, but Maryland had no answer for UNC's guards.
Player of the Game: Diamond DeShields, North Carolina. This time around, she posted 22 points and three assists. She operated in the low block like a female Len Bias, using a deadly turnaround jumper with contact to dominate the Terps inside.
Stat of the Game. 13-22 v. 16-20. The former represents Maryland's foul shooting and the latter UNC's. The Terps (and Thomas in particular) are normally good foul shooters, but their failure to cash in on those opportunities led to this defeat as much as any other cause. UNC has been a team that's had difficulty with foul shooting, but they made it their bread and butter in this game.