Late Saturday night, while North Carolina’s Cetera DeGraffenreid talked with Centhya Hart — a former teammate now playing at St. John’s — Hart told DeGraffenreid the Red Storm were going to press her.
On Sunday, DeGraffenreid picked that press apart like a Jenga tower.
“She was like, ‘I told them not to press you,’ so I was like, ‘Tell them to,’” DeGraffenreid said, repeating her conversation with Hart.
St. John’s didn’t unveil that press until the two teams were tied at 65 later in the game.
North Carolina and coach Sylvia Hatchell looked like a team without an answer after surrendering a 12-point halftime lead.
But when St. John’s threw its full-court press at UNC, DeGraffenreid was the answer.
The 5-foot-6 guard navigated St. John’s press like Magellan and led her team through the final minutes to victory.
“We tried to press them,” St. John’s coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “We press them a lot but we couldn’t contain DeGraffenreid at all. That’s a hard match up for anyone because she’s so quick.”
In the final seven minutes of the game, DeGraffenreid scored eight points and tallied three assists.
“We missed some free throws and Degraffenreid took over the game and she scored a bunch of baskets in a row,” Arico said.
Perhaps the best example of her dominance was her off-balance layup attempt at the 5:30 mark.
The junior slashed through the lane and, while leaning away from a defender’s raised arms, scooped the ball into the hoop with her right hand for the basket and the foul.
“I knew that we had an advantage if I would go,” DeGraffenreid said. “Sometimes I would hit Broomfield. I would hit Chay (Shegog). They were down there. I just knew at the end, when they started pressing, that we would have an advantage.”
DeGraffenreid made that free throw and was four for five from the free-throw line in those final seven minutes.
In that final seven-minute stretch, DeGraffenreid either scored or assisted 14 of the team’s 16 points.
The junior finished the game with 16 points, 10 assists, two steals and six turnovers — none of which were committed in the final seven minutes.
“We’re just a team that loves presses so I was happy when it happened,” DeGraffenreid said.
When asked if her game is at its best when facing a press, DeGraffenreid didn’t have to say anything.
The answer was obvious on Hatchell’s face as she smiled and confidently nodded her head.
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