North Carolina Wins 2006 ACC Women's Basketball Tournament Championship
March 5, 2006
By DAVID DROSCHAK
GREENSBORO - Sylvia Hatchell got to use her gold scissors for a second straight season.
Top-ranked North Carolina avenged its only loss of the year, getting 26 points each from Ivory Latta and Erlana Larkins to defeat No. 4 Maryland 91-80 in the ACC Women's Tournament championship game Sunday.
Hatchell used the gold scissors after her 1994 team won the national title and last year after downing Duke for the ACC crown. She had them ready again after the Tar Heels (29-1) held off the third-seeded Terrapins (28-4) down the stretch to win their second straight league title.
"I hope I get to use them one more time," Hatchell said, referring to a possible run to the NCAA championship.
Latta was named the MVP, but it was Larkins' inside presence in the title game that gave Hatchell her sixth ACC crown since '94. Larkins had a career-high point total on 9-for-14 shooting while grabbing 12 rebounds.
"She is very difficult to defend on the block," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said of the 6-foot-1 sophomore. "She is strong. She is physical. She is aggressive. I thought she really backed us down low. And I thought she was just a beast out there on the glass."
"Erlana was so tough inside," added Hatchell. "During our timeouts we kept saying, `Get the ball to E; Get the ball to E.'"
The Tar Heels scored 58 of their points in the paint and converted 21-of-27 free throws to avenge their 98-95 overtime loss to Maryland in Chapel Hill on Feb. 9.
"There was a lot of pressure on us remembering we had lost Maryland before," said Camille Little, who battled early foul trouble but scored 11 of her 13 points in the second half.
There were 10 ties and no team led by more than two points in the opening 11 minutes before the Tar Heels went on an 8-0 run as Latta sank a 3-pointer, got a steal and layup and added a free throw for a 28-20 lead.
Latta then added an 8-footer in the lane and two free throws over the final 48.2 seconds of the half to give the Tar Heels a seven-point lead at the break as North Carolina converted 11 Maryland turnovers into 17 points.
The Tar Heels would never trail in the second half of their 11th appearance in the finals in the last 13 years.
Latta's layup with 12:13 left gave North Carolina a 13-point lead as the partisan Tar Heel crowd of 10,746 sensed a possible blowout. But Maryland rallied with four 3-pointers over a span of 3:26 to close to 79-76 with 5:21 left.
That's when Larkins made the biggest difference. She converted two free throws and added a follow shot with 3:28 remaining to give the Tar Heels a seven-point cushion and the Terrapins never got closer down the stretch.
Maryland all-conference forward Crystal Langhorne, who scored 25 points in Maryland's win over the Tar Heels a month ago, had 12 in this one, but managed just one shot in the second half as North Carolina's defense swarmed all over the court.
"Their traps kind of gave us some problems," Frese said.
"We were mixing things up and they weren't able to feed it into the post," Hatchell said. "And we were putting great pressure on the ball, and that helps our post players, too."
Frese got a great game from Jade Perry off the bench. She scored 18 points in 23 minutes on 7-of-8 shooting.
Latta, the ACC's player of the year, averaged 20 points over Carolina's three tournament wins, which were by 26, 21 and 11 points.
Despite winning 28 of 29 games, Latta refused to say that the confidence of the Tar Heels is at an all-time high.
"We know we're going into the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 seed," the point guard said. "Everybody is going to be coming after us. I don't think we're on cloud nine."
Meanwhile, Hatchell said she won't be changing a thing over the next two weeks as her team prepares for the final postseason grind.
"My kids are playing their hearts out for me," she said. "This is the kind of team a coach dreams of."
The Terrapins must now wait to see if they'll join the Tar Heels and Duke as a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs.
"Yes, Maryland is worthy of that," Hatchell said when asked of the ACC should have three top seeds. "They are a great team. And they are young, so they are going to be tough for a long time."