Late Run Sends No. 4 Tar Heels To ACC Tournament Finals
March 3, 2007
Fourth-ranked North Carolina broke open a tied game with two minutes left and beat fifth-ranked Maryland 78-72 Saturday in the semifinals of the ACC Women's Basketball Tournament in the Greensboro Coliseum.
The win sends the Tar Heels, the defending ACC champions, to the championship game set Sunday at 1 p.m. against N.C. State.
"We didn't get rattled, and we made some big shots when we needed to," said North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell, whose team is now 29-3.
Maryland, which never led, tied the game at 67-all on Kristi Toliver's jumper from the top of the key with 2:01 left on the clock.
But North Carolina dominated the rest of the way. It started with point guard Ivory Latta finding LaToya Pringle open under the basket to take the lead for good with 1:34 remaining.
"Coach called the play, I saw LaToya in there and I threw it to her," Latta said.
Latta was then on the receiving end of an assist from teammate Alex Miller, who grabbed a crucial rebound with 1:05 left and Latta scored on an all-alone fast break.
Pringle then partially blocked a shot by Shay Doron with 35 seconds left, and UNC salted away the win with four free throws by Latta, two by Miller and one by Little.
Latta led the winners with 19 points, followed by Jessica Breland with 14, Erlana Larkins with 12, and Pringle and Camille Little with 11 each.
North Carolina center Erlana Larkins chalked up a double-double with 10 rebounds to go with her dozen points.
Maryland, now 27-5, put three different post players on Larkins throughout the game.
"Sometimes it's Laura Harper, sometimes it's Langhorne, and sometimes it's Perry," Larkins said. "I'm a big woman, but three women coming at you the entire 40 minutes, it kind of wears you down."
Hatchell had high praise for Larkins, noting, "I've called her many times my warrior, and she is. When we need her, she's there."
Maryland coach Brenda Frese said, "It was just a tremendous game for both teams. We didn't want to go home, but I'm proud of our effort. A Final Four game--that's what it felt like."
Maryland, the defending NCAA champion, trailed 37-30 at the half and by 10 points in the second half before mounting a furious rally to tie the game.
"Jessica Breland was their X-factor today," Frese said. "It speaks volumes for their depth."
Breland went 5-for-6 from the field and hit 3-of-4 free throws in just 16 minutes of play.
"Jessica was a McDonald's High School All-America," Hatchell said. "Today was not a fluke. She's going to play like she did today and probably better."
Doron said it was tough finishing her career without an ACC championship, but added if the Terps had to lose Saturday to win another national championship, she would take it.
"I'm looking at the big picture," Doron said.
Marissa Coleman led Maryland with 18 points and eight rebounds, followed by Crystal Langhorne with 16 points, Doron with 13 and Toliver with 12.
Coleman said, "Toward the end of the game, we let them get some crucial rebounds."
Hatchell said down the stretch, her Tar Heels showed mental toughness--and played as a team.
"We had 20 assists out of 28 field goals made," Hatchell said, pointing out that's good team basketball.
Hatchell said another key to the victory was having Little guard Toliver.
"I was proud down the stretch when Maryland made their comeback, and we did a couple of things that really made a difference and were able to pull the game out. Maryland is so good at so many areas of the game. You take one thing away, they make up for it with something else. Those kids can shoot the lights out, especially Toliver and Shay and Coleman. They got hot at the end."
The North Carolina coach said she watched most of N.C. State's upset of Duke in the first semifinal.
"Those kids from N.C. State--it was absolutely unbelievable," Hatchell said. "When they gave Kay (Yow) that award (after the game), the other head coaches, we were talking, and we decided that we are going to invest in a movie about these last few weeks for N.C. State, because it's been an incredible run for them.
"Hopefully, some of that emotion will run out. We know we've got to play a great game tomorrow because N.C. State will be sky high."