STANFORD -- North Carolina lost its coach just before the season when Sylvia Hatchell temporarily stepped aside after being diagnosed with leukemia.

Now the Tar Heels (27-9) might not have the services of leading scorer Diamond DeShields when playing Stanford on Tuesday night in an Elite Eight game at Maples Pavilion.

The freshman guard who averages 18.1 points per game rolled her right ankle and aggravated a left-knee injury Sunday in helping the No. 4 Tar Heels upset South Carolina in the Sweet 16. Despite the injuries, she scored 19 points against the top-seeded Gamecocks.

The ankle "doesn't feel good at all," DeShields said Monday. But "they are going to have to basically to take me down and strap me into a chair to stop me from playing."

North Carolina physicians won't determine her status until just before the 6 p.m. tipoff Tuesday.

Second-seeded Stanford (32-3) is planning for all situations as it sits on the doorstep of its sixth Final Four appearance in seven years.

"They're a little bit unpredictable in a dangerous way," Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said. "They make a lot happen with their athleticism, in transition, on the glass, creating one-on-one shots. We are just opposite teams."

North Carolina and Stanford share one commonality: They have created storylines that they hope inspire a trip to the Final Four in Nashville, Tenn., next week.

The Tar Heels have rallied behind Hatchell, who has completed chemotherapy treatments and is in remission.


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The Cardinal has found incentive in losing in the Sweet 16 last year and then getting passed over for a No. 1 seeding this month.

Such causes can help develop team cohesion, said Stanford's Rick Schavone, a professor of sports psychology and Cardinal diving coach.

Last Thursday, Hatchell gave her young charges a team-bonding cause when announcing she could return to the bench in Nashville.

But Hatchell, 62, has not been far from the hearts and minds of the Tar Heels, who finished sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

She helps associate head coach Andrew Calder plot strategy and sends players encouraging text messages before games.

"Every time she speaks to us, it's motivating," junior guard Latifah Coleman said. "The more we see her, the more we want her around."

Stanford senior Mikaela Ruef has found a wealth of motivation from last year's third-round roadblock against Georgia.

The 6-foot-3 forward didn't vocalize it throughout the season. Instead, Ruef molded herself into a hardened post player whom the Cardinal has needed to reach the Final Four.

Her teammates have followed Ruef's work ethic without being told.

Chiney Ogwumike, who Monday was named to the Women's Basketball Coaches Association All-America team, highlighted the pain of last season's end when writing on the Stanford locker room board: "3rd round last year."

Adding to the sense of urgency was the perceived snub by the NCAA selection committee.

"It was more motivation for us to be like, OK, 'We're underdogs or not expected to go to the Final Four,' " said senior Toni Kokenis, who medically retired before the season because of concussions.

Kokenis, who helped the Cardinal reach two Final Fours before being sidelined, said Stanford players experience tremendous pressure to win every game because of heightened expectations from a perennial powerhouse.

"We play the best when we're more relaxed," said Kokenis, who attends every practice and game to help the younger guards.

Some of the school's past stars who visited the locker room Sunday found the players dancing joyously after the Sweet 16 victory -- quite a contrast to the alumni's studious atmosphere in previous Cardinal iterations.

But it seems to be working for this group if not for its coach.

"They might be relaxed," VanDerveer said. "I'm not."

Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.

TUESDAY'S GAME

Stanford Regional championship, at Maples Pavilion: Stanford (32-3) vs. North Carolina (27-9),
6 p.m. ESPN

HOW THEY GOT HERE

Stanford: Def. No. 15 seed South Dakota 81-62, def. No. 10 Florida State 63-44, def. No. 3 Penn State 82-57
North Carolina: Def. No. 13 seed Tennessee-Martin 60-58, def. No. 5 Michigan State 62-53, def. No. 1 South Carolina 65-58

Hatchell

Tar Heels coach has inspired players during battle with leukemia.

DeShields

Tar Heels'
top scorer may miss regional title game with ankle injury.