North Carolina Takes ACC Tournament With 60-54 Win Over NC State
March 4, 2007
BY STEVE PHILLIPS
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Just call Ivory Latta a woman of her word.
North Carolina's 60-54 victory over North Carolina State in Sunday's Atlantic Coast Conference Women's Tournament title game prompted winning coach Sylvia Hatchell to recall a promise Latta made three years ago as a freshman.
Latta, then UNC's freshman point guard, felt the sting of coming out on the losing end of the tournament championship game after the Tar Heels suffered a 16-point loss to Duke. After that game, Hatchell made her team sit and watch the Blue Devils' celebrate and receive their championship trophy.
"I wanted the young players to see what the experience was of winning an ACC championship," Hatchell said. "It was tough. It hurt. A lot of tears. But I remember Ivory came over and sat beside me and said, `Coach as Iong as I'm here this won't happen again. If we are in the championship game, we are going to win it. I promise you this.' "
With Sunday's win, the Tar Heels owned their third straight tournament championship. And the promise by Latta -- who carried home her third straight MVP award -- was complete.
"She's always kept her promises with us, and she's always been true to her word in everything," Latta said of Hatchell, who claimed her seventh ACC Tournament crown in 21 years at UNC. "I had to be true to my word with her."
Latta scored a game-high 20 points on Sunday and will be remembered most for two big shots.
The first came at the 8:59 mark of the second half, just after Khadija Whittington's bucket capped a 10-1 Wolfpack surge that left the score tied at 41-all. Latta answered with her fourth 3-point basket of the day a mere 11 seconds later to put UNC back ahead.
The second came with under a minute remaining the game, after the Tar Heels had rebuilt their lead to nine points only to see the Wolfpack threaten again. With UNC clinging to a 55-52 lead and the shot clock winding down, Latta took the ball to the hoop against N.C. State defender (and best friend) Ashley Key.
Latta's plan was to penetrate and kick the ball to a teammate, but she found no opening once she got into the lane. She did, however, find she had slipped past Key. Latta responded with a running layup for a 57-52 UNC lead with 35.9 seconds left, essentially sealing the win.
"I just gave a little fake and went to the basket, and I had a wide-open layup," Latta said.
Key, who gutted out 40 minutes for the Wolfpack, lamented her inability to make the stop.
"I just wish I had that moment back," she said.
In addition to the key plays by Latta, the fourth-ranked and second-seeded Tar Heels (30-3) also got a big game inside from junior forward Erlana Larkins. With UNC facing a 27-24 halftime deficit, Larkins scored nine of her 18 points in the first six minutes of the second half as the Tar Heels forged ahead.
Key's 14 points led the fourth-seeded and 24th ranked Wolfpack (23-9), which is certain to join UNC in the NCAA Tournament field. Shayla Fields added 12, while Whittington had a game-high 13 rebounds.
The game capped an emotional week for N.C. State, which upset top-ranked and previously unbeaten Duke in Saturday's semifinal. The Wolfpack dedicated the tournament to veteran coach Kay Yow, whose season-long fight against breast cancer has touched those far beyond the boundaries of the ACC.
"I'm overwhelmed by how people tell me I've inspired them," said Yow, whose recent chemotherapy treatments and the three-day tournament grind left her nearly hoarse and fighting a cough at game's end. "I'm just doing the best that I can. That's what I'm about, just like I what I want this team to be about -- to give their best."
The Wolfpack knocked the Tar Heels back early, bolting to a 20-9 lead and getting an extra shot of momentum when Latta picked up her third foul and went to the bench with 5:06 remaining in the opening half.
But turnovers began taking their toll, and N.C. State endured a stretch of over six minutes in which it did not make a field goal. The Tar Heels were within 27-24 by the break, and would have been closer had the Fields not broken the scoring drought with a transition basket just before the halftime buzzer.
N.C. State finished the game with 21 turnovers to UNC's 14. On a day the Wolfpack shot a higher percentage than the Tar Heels and held a 39-34 rebounding edge, that was the stat Yow lamented the most.
"If you turn it over 21 times and don't even get a chance to try for a basket in those possessions, that really hurts," she said. "And a lot of (the turnovers) were more unforced."
The Wolfpack also got little production inside from 6-foot-7 center Gillian Goring, who opened the tournament in grand style with 22 points and 19 rebounds in Friday's quarterfinal win over Florida State. Goring had four points and three rebounds while playing 22 minutes on Sunday.
"GG wasn't feeling well," Yow said. "But you know ... we have a lot of people that might not be feeling well. Everybody has to dig deep. This is a championship (game). Mind over matter at that point."
UNC's Latta, while steamed over her third foul, quickly got back into the flow with a long 3-point shot in the opening minutes of the second half that gave the Tar Heels their first lead since early in the game.
"I had fresh legs in the second half," Latta said, citing the one positive. "So that was great."
Latta will enter NCAA Tournament play as UNC's all-time leading scorer with 2,212 career points. She passed previous leader Tracy Reid (2,200) with Sunday's performance.
"Just as we were leaving the arena out there, all of the little kids were calling her name," Hatchell said of the 5-foot-6 Latta. "She has done so much for the game of basketball. Every little kid in America thinks they can play Division I basketball."
The ACC Tournament championship was UNC's eighth overall, tying Maryland for the most by one program. The Tar Heels and Wolfpack had not met in the championship game since playing back-to-back years in 1984 and '85 (with each side winning once).
Latta was joined on the all-tournament first team by UNC teammate Larkins, N.C. State's Key and Whittington, and Duke's Abby Waner.
State's Goring, UNC's Camille Little, Maryland's Marissa Coleman and Crystal Langhorne, and Duke's Alison Bales were second-team selections.
Sunday's sellout crowd of 11,538 set an attendance record for this 30-year event, as did the 69,159 total spectators who attended the four-day tournament.