Second-Half Surge Lifts Top-Seeded Tar Heels Past Ninth-Seeded Virginia, 82-56
March 3, 2006
GREENSBORO - Top-ranked North Carolina was able to overcome an "off" game from star Ivory Latta and a poor outside shooting day, going on one of its textbook second-half runs to down Virginia 82-56 and advance to the semifinals of the ACC women's tournament.
The top-seeded and defending champion Tar Heels (27-1) missed their first 12 3-pointers and finished just 5-for-21 behind the arc. But it didn't matter in the end as North Carolina wore down the ninth-seeded Cavaliers (18-11) with their speed, size and inside presence.
"What makes them No. 1 and separates them from us right now is their ability to play 40 minutes and to put 11 people on the court that can stay at a very high level at all times, which makes it difficult for seven people who just played a game last night," said Virginia coach Debbie Ryan.
Despite the lopsided loss, UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said Virginia is good enough to justify an NCAA Tournament bid.
"Usually the (NCAA selection) committee looks at your last 10 games, and their last 10 games their losses have been two to us, and then to Duke and Maryland. And they've won a lot of games, too," Hatchell said. "They are playing really well right now. They deserve to be in."
Ryan can do nothing more now than just sit and wait for the NCAA selection call.
"We have probably made a pretty good case, but we just have to pray that there aren't a lot of upsets in tournaments the next couple of days," Ryan said.
Latta, the ACC player of the year and league's second-leading scorer was just 3-for-11 from the field with two assists, but she led North Carolina's assault from the free-throw line, making 9-of-11 as the Tar Heels went 23-for-30 from the stripe.
The trapping Tar Heels also held Virginia to 29 percent shooting, forced 21 turnovers and blocked nine shots -- a school record in ACC tourney play.
North Carolina also grabbed 53 rebounds after having 54 against Duke in its last game. Both are season highs after a stretch in which rebounding appeared to be one of the team's only weaknesses.
"I just think we finally realized how important it was," Little said. "Coach Hatchell has been preaching about rebounds the last five or six games. We just had to take it upon ourselves to step up and rebound when it was time to. It is working out for us now."
The Cavaliers, who had won five straight, trailed just 41-40 with 14:41 left and had hung with the nation's top team the entire way. However, it all came unraveled for Virginia over the next five minutes as the Tar Heels went on a 21-3 run to salt the game away.
"We're a team, with the tempo we play, lots of time we play in runs," Hatchell said. "I felt like if we kept on pushing and playing pressure defense and playing with intensity that eventually we could go on a run and get a pretty good lead."
"We showed a lot of character and courage in the first half to match them point-for-point," Ryan said. "But we just seemed to get tired, or I don't know what happened to us, but the doors blew off and Carolina exposed about everything that was wrong about our team in that stretch. That was all she wrote."
North Carolina made eight straight free throws at one point during the spurt which was fueled by three La'Tangela Atkinson layups and a 3-pointer by Camille Little.
Little scored 17 points, while Atkinson finished with 15 and LaToya Pringle added 14 off the bench to match a season high.
"I just went out and played defense and it led to my offense," said Atkinson, who averages just 8.9 points a game. "I just ran the floor, I pressured the ball and it created some open shots for me."
Latta also finished with 17 points and, late in the game, extended her streak of making at least one 3-pointer to 56 games.