Top-Seeded North Carolina Moves into Semifinal With 97-77 Win Over Ninth-Seeded Clemson
March 7, 2008
By Steve Phillips
GREENSBORO, N.C. - Top-seeded North Carolina offered no frills or fancy tricks as it opened defense of its Atlantic Coast Conference Women's Tournament championship.
UNC simply called on the senior inside tandem of Erlana Larkins and LaToya Pringle, and each came up big in Friday's 97-77 quarterfinal win over ninth-seeded Clemson.
Larkins scored 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Pringle added 16 points. The pair shot a combined 15-of-19 from the floor.
"I've challenged them to lead the team, and that's exactly what they are doing," UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "We like to get the ball inside to those two. That's sort of our bread and butter."
The Tar Heels, ranked second nationally and seeking their fourth straight ACC Tournament title, moved on to Saturday's 1 p.m. semifinal game against fourth-seeded Virginia. UNC (28-2) owns an 11-game winning streak.
Clemson, which defeated eighth-seeded NC State in Thursday's first-round game, ended its season at 12-19.
"We knew going in that this was going to be a tough game, and we played well in stretches," said Tigers coach Cristy McKinney. "We got hurt some inside. They are bigger and deeper than we are. But I am proud of the way we battled. This should give our young team a lot to look forward to going into next year.
Larkins and Pringle weren't the Tar Heels' only weapons. Starting guards Heather Claytor, Cetera DeGraffenreid and Rashanda McCants added 12 points apiece. Reserve forward Jessica Breland chipped in nine.
"The strength of our team is our balance," Hatchell said.
Forward D'Lesha Lloyd led Clemson with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Lele Hardy finished with 16 points and Morganne Campbell scored 12.
UNC freshman guard Rebecca Gray suffered an apparent neck injury with 6:15 remaining in the game. She was carried from the Greensboro Coliseum court strapped to a back board and taken to Moses Cone Hospital for evaluation.
The Tigers opened the game by hitting their first four shots from the floor, then failed to score on their next 10 possessions. UNC capitalized with 10 unanswered points, but Clemson stayed within striking range until Larkins and Pringle took turns going to work midway through the first half.
Larkins muscled in eight straight points - including a crowd-pleasing, acrobatic reverse layup on a rebound follow - and Pringle scored the next seven for UNC. All told, the pair accounted for all 22 of the points their team scored between the 12:24 and 5:34 marks of the opening half. The spurt gave the Tar Heels a 35-23 lead, and they went on to build the margin to 27 points (52-25) by halftime.
"It was just the flow of the game," Larkins said. "Clemson was cutting into our lead, and we said we needed to take care of the ball and look for good shots. It just so happened that I was doing the scoring."
Larkins and Pringle were a combined 11-of-11 in the first half, and the Tar Heels shot 53 percent as a team. Larkins had 16 points by the break, Pringle 14.
The Tigers still had some fight left, as Lloyd and Hardy keyed a second-half spurt that trimmed the deficit as low as nine points. But UNC countered with Larkins' rebound follow, then converted two straight Clemson turnovers into points to build lead back to 15 (71-56) with just over 11 minutes left.
The Tar Heels cruised on from there, building their lead as high as 23 points in the closing minutes.
UNC and Virginia met once during the regular season, with the Tar Heels winning 90-82 at Charlottesville on Feb. 15. UNC defeated the Cavaliers in the quarterfinals of last year's ACC Tournament.
"I love Virginia's team, except when we play them," Hatchell said.
"They are solid at every position."
UNC's coaching staff wore blue ribbons on their lapels for Friday's game. A number of Tar Heel players had short inscriptions scrawled on their shoes. Hatchell said the gestures were in remembrance of Eve Carson, UNC's student government president, who died in an apparent random shooting near campus on Wednesday.
"We're a very tight-knit community," Hatchell said. "When one of our comrades goes down, we all feel it. We felt this was a way we could honor Eve."