North Carolina Claims First ACC Tournament Title Since 1998
March 7, 2005
By DAVID DROSCHAK
GREENSBORO, N.C. - North Carolina couldn't beat Duke the last few years.
Now the Tar Heels can't seem to lose to the Blue Devils, beating them for the third time in 47 days Monday night to claim the Atlantic Coast Conference women's basketball title with an 88-67 victory over the five-time defending league champs.
Tourney MVP Ivory Latta followed up her 32-point effort in the semifinals by scoring 26 against the second-seeded Blue Devils, who saw their 17-game ACC tourney winning streak snapped in convincing fashion in front of a tournament finals record crowd of 11,578.
"I'm on cloud nine right now and I don't know when I'm coming down," said Latta, UNC's speedy 5-foot-6 point guard.
North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell, who lost to Duke 12 straight times prior to this season, helped cut down the nets with the same gold scissors she used at the 1994 national title game.
"I gave them to one of my managers this afternoon and I said, 'You hold on to these and after the game's over and we win pull them out,"' Hatchell said. "These scissors are special."
The top-seeded Tar Heels (27-3) started like they did in their first two games over the weekend - slow. UNC missed 14 of its first 17 shots to fall behind by eight before taking the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Camille Little 7:58 before the break.
The North Carolina lead grew to as many as 12 in the opening half before Duke (28-4) closed to 44-41 with 15:04 remaining.
But Erlana Larkins made a layup and Latta sank 3-pointer and two foul shots over the next minute and a half and Duke never got closer than eight the rest of the way.
Little's fourth 3-pointer of the game as the shot clock expired with 8:18 left was the dagger, and gave UNC an insurmountable 71-51 lead.
In addition to Latta, Little was the offensive hero, scoring 23 points. She was just 6-for-21 in UNC's two previous ACC wins. "They were falling today so I just kept shooting," said Little, who was 7-for-11 from the field.
Duke had beaten the Tar Heels in each of the last three ACC title games and had disposed of Wake Forest by 57 points and Maryland by 30 leading up to this title game.
But UNC set the tempo with a quick pace and dominated the boards 53-37 to hand the blue Devils their worst loss since being dumped by Notre Dame 84-57 in November 1998.
North Carolina's point total was also the most allowed by Duke this season. UNC won its other two games against Duke by five and nine points.
"We didn't use our size all night - on either end of the floor," Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said. "They were very much the aggressor on the boards."
Duke's only other loss this season occurred back in November against Notre Dame.
"We've got to move on," said Monique Currie, the ACC player of the year who led the Blue Devils with 26 points. "I've swept Carolina the last three years and we still haven't won the national championship. So I'm looking forward to the NCAA Tournament and hopefully things will get better for us."
Meanwhile, Hatchell, with one of the nets wrapped around her neck, lobbied for a No. 1 overall NCAA seed.
"We've got 10 wins over teams in the top 25 RPI," she said. "That's more than any school in the country. Not only do we deserve a No. 1 seed, but we probably deserve THE No. 1 seed. I'm giving you facts."
UNC's last ACC title came in 1998, a 31-point win over Clemson.