The New Orleans Region's Most Outstanding Player, senior Sylvia Fowles, scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to guide her seven fellow seniors and first-year LSU head coach Van Chancellor to his first career national semifinal in his 20th collegiate season.
After making four NCAA Elite 8 appearances at Ole Miss, the four-time WNBA World Champion and Olympic coach finally added the elusive title to his long resume.
LSU will face the winner of top-seeded Tennessee and second-seeded Texas A&M on Sunday, April 6, in Tampa, Fla. Game times are 6 and 8:30 p.m. CDT with the pairings to be determined.
The Lady Tigers, who came in to the game with the fourth-worst free-throw percentage in tournament play, made 12-of-15 in the final 3:46 to bury keep the Tar Heels from getting any closer than four in the last six minutes.
Fowles, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, made 10-of-18 shots and added five blocks on the defensive end to will the Lady Tigers past North Carolina in front of a friendly crowd of 5,067 at the New Orleans Arena.
LSU's Quianna Chaney added 13 points and four assists, while point guard Erica White was 6-for-6 from the line to finish with eight points, eight rebounds and four assists. Guard RaShonta LeBlanc hit the most important shot of the game, a three pointer from the right wing with 4:30 to play that put LSU ahead by seven, 44-37, with 4:30 left.
North Carolina center LaToya Pringle gave the Lady Tigers' top-ranked defense all it could handle, scoring 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting before fouling out in the closing seconds.
Much like LSU's regional semifinal win over Oklahoma State, one player wasn't enough to stop this team. The rest of the Tar Heels starting five combined for 7-of-34 shooting and only 17 points. Senior Erlana Larkins was held to five points with 11 rebounds, while Rashanda McCants added nine points and nine rebounds. Jessica Breland came off the bench to added eight points and nine rebounds in 24 minutes.
The LSU offense that came out of the blocks slowly on Saturday was able to click instantly on the first three possessions of the game.
Chaney drove the right baseline and pulled up for an 8-foot jumper before Fowles and White made layups for a 6-0 lead in the first two minutes.
Larkins was fouled by Fowles and converted the three-point play to cut the Lady Tigers' lead in half and start a 7-0 Tar Heels run.
After Chaney answered with a three pointer from the left corner, McCants tied the game at 9-9 with a layup at the 14:49 mark.
Fowles returned shortly after and started a 9-2 LSU run. The 6-6 center jumped to the level of the rim to grab an in-bounds pass from the left sideline, and layed it in to tie the game at 13-13.
When Thomas' 16-foot jumper was answered by a paint bucket by DeGraddenreid, Chaney made her second three pointer before Fowles hit a WNBA-like fade-away jumper from 10 feet that gave fans a glimpse of a new era of women's college basketball.
The indefensible jumper gave LSU its largest lead of the half, 20-15, with 8:03 left.
Both teams cooled for the remainder of the half, as LSU made only 2-of-17 shots and North Carolina was 3-of-9 with six turnovers.
LSU led 24-21 at the half.
Pringle's short jumper cut the lead to one, 24-23, on the Tar Heels first possession of the second half.
However, the Lady Tigers reeled off six unanswered and picked up the defensive pressure to expand the lead to 30-23.
Thomas picked up her third personal foul, forcing Chancellor to use Williams to guard Pringle in the post. Pringle scored North Carolina's next nine points, converting one of two three-point plays and hitting two more basket from point-blank range to keep her team within two of the Lady Tigers, 34-32 with 10:56 left.
When North Carolina began its half-court trapping defense, Chaney got involved LSU's motion offense. The Baton Rouge native hit a short jumper in the paint and a three pointer from the left wing to put the Lady Tigers in front, 39-35.
With more than five minutes to play, both of LSU's frontcourt starters along with Pringle picked up a fourth personal foul in a span of 90 seconds, forcing the coaches to make substitution decisions with their stars.
A three pointer and a pair of free throws by LeBlanc gave LSU a 46-37 lead with 3:46 to play.
Free throws down the stretch kept North Carolina from mounting a legitimate comeback.