No. 1 North Carolina Rolls Past NC State, 90-69
March 4, 2006
By David Droschak
GREENSBORO - Top-ranked North Carolina rolled into the ACC Women's Tournament championship game for the fifth straight season, shooting 53 percent to blast arch-rival N.C. State 90-69 in the semifinals Saturday.
The defending ACC champion and top-seeded Tar Heels (28-1) built a 13-point lead less than eight minutes in and never looked back, getting their usual balanced scoring and solid defense to down the Wolfpack for the sixth straight time and 11th time in the last 12 meetings.
North Carolina defeated N.C. State by 17 and 13 points during the regular season.
Five Tar Heels scored in double figures, led by Ivory Latta's 17 points. La'Tangela Atkinson added 13 on 6-for-6 shooting.
"That balance is the strength of our team," said UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell.
North Carolina's outside shooting picked up after starting poorly in Friday's quarterfinal win over Virginia, a game in which the Tar Heels missed their first 12 3-pointers. The Tar Heels made 9-of-17 against the Wolfpack, including two in a span of 21 seconds by slumping guard Alex Miller, who was a combined 2-for-26 from the field in her previous five games.
"I just told her to keep her head up," Latta said when asked if she had talked with Miller before the game. "She took her time today. I think she's got her confidence back."
The fifth-seeded Wolfpack (19-11) had topped Clemson and fourth-seeded Florida State to advance to the semifinals, but needed a fast start in order to hang with the talented Tar Heels. That good start never came as N.C. State missed 15 of its first 20 shots.
"We know it's important with a team like that, and other really great teams, to start the game out strong, not to start to lose it in the first five minutes, which I felt happened to us today," N.C. State coach Kay Yow said. "From that point their confidence level really rose and they really shot the ball extremely well. We just got in a deep hole and then we were just fighting for our life."
Hatchell admitted that part of the game plan was to keep the tempo at a high level early in the game since the Wolfpack had already played two games in the tournament.
"It was effective," Yow said. "But we knew that would be a part of their game plan. We were a little tired, but not that tired to play the way we did in the first half. We should have done better, we know that. We feel badly for our fans, that we didn't give them more than we did today."
N.C. State trailed 29-21 before the Tar Heels went on a 17-6 run to close out the half. Latta hit a 16-footer to start the surge, and added a free throw and a 3-pointer over a span of 6:20 as North Carolina went in at the break up 19.
"I just know coach kept telling me to push the ball up the court," Latta said. "I just kept trying to create a lot of havoc in their end and find the open person. We were more open today. When they double teamed me I just kicked the ball out to my teammates."
A quick look at the stat sheet after the first half showed why N.C. State couldn't muster much against the Tar Heels. The Wolfpack was just 8-for-36 from the field, including 1-for-9 from 3-point range, with 10 turnovers.
N.C. State's starting guards were a combined 4-for-18 in the opening 20 minutes. Marquetta Dickens had averaged 17.5 points in N.C. State's two tournament wins, but managed just three against the Tar Heels.
"We did key a little bit on her," Hatchell said. "We were trying to keep her from getting hot."
North Carolina's margin grew to as many as 28 in the early stages of the second half on a driving baseline layup and foul shot by Atkinson as the Tar Heels were well on their way to the ACC title game for the 11th time in the last 13 seasons.
North Carolina also moved within two wins of its fourth 30-win season. The Tar Heels set the school record of 33 victories during their 1994 national championship run.
"We're going to go out there and get it," Latta said of Sunday's title game.
"I don't know if we're peaking," added Hatchell. "But we're focused on our task and what we're trying to do and what we do well, what we enjoy doing and what we feel like we need is going to get us a championship. We gear everything for tournament time."