North Carolina Wins Its Fourth Consecutive ACC Title
March 9, 2008
By Steve Phillips
GREENSBORO, N.C. - North Carolina hasn't grown tired of winning the Atlantic Coast Conference Women's Tournament championship - a point coach Sylvia Hatchell made clear following Sunday's 86-73 win over Duke in the 31st annual event's title game.
"Trust me, we do not take it for granted, not in any way, shape or form," Hatchell said after her team earned a fourth straight tournament crown. "If you win the ACC Tournament, you're not going to face any teams or any competition any tougher to win a national championship. We've already played the best teams in the country, and the ACC prepares you."
Tournament MVP Erlana Larkins scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the top-seeded Tar Heels (30-2), who followed up a regular season in which they went unbeaten in conference play. Larkins and other members of UNC's senior class posted a 12-0 record in ACC Tournament games.
"I don't think it's hit me yet," Larkins said. "But once I get on the bus and hear all the noise, everybody being enthusiastic and energetic, I am sure it will sink in."
DeGraffenreid, who moved into the starting lineup after senior Alex Miller suffered a knee injury early in the season, hit three 3-point shots in a span of under three minutes to help UNC open up a double-digit lead in the second half.
"I've said this many times - Cetera has not gotten the credit she deserves for leading our team and running our team," Hatchell said. "She doesn't say much, but she's just real solid and real steady."
Jasmine Thomas and Chante Black scored 16 apiece to lead Duke (23-9), and Abby Waner finished with 11.
The nationally second-ranked Tar Heels are certain to be a No. 1 seed when NCAA Tournament pairings are announced March 17. Hatchell hopes the ACC Tournament championship boosted her team's chances of being placed in the Greensboro Regional, which will hold its semifinals and final at the Coliseum March 30-April 1.
"We want to play in Greensboro," Hatchell said. "Our only two losses were to teams that were ranked No. 1 in the country (Tennessee and Connecticut) on their home courts. We hope we made our case."
The 12th-ranked Blue Devils, who were seeded third in the ACC Tournament field, are in line for an NCAA at-large bid. Sunday's performance proved far superior to last weekend's 31-point loss to the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, but Waner said Duke sought more than mere improvement.
"We're not going to be happy with second place," Waner said. "We demand excellence, and we demand to win. But we're going to take what we can from this and move on, because we obviously have games left in our season."
McCants figured in two big plays in the closing minutes of the first half. The Tar Heel junior first came up with a steal and drove for a layup to put the Tar Heels up 39-33 with 1:54 remaining. Then, following an interception and quick pass by Jessica Breland, McCants motored for a pull-up jumper that wound up accounting for UNC's eight-point cushion at the break.
Duke crept within 47-43 on Black's layup with just over 15 minutes remaining in the game, but Heather Claytor countered with a 3-pointer for the Tar Heels and the Blue Devils turned the ball over on their next three possessions.
Keyed by DeGraffenreid's 3-point spree, UNC took full advantage to push its lead its lead to 17 points with just under eight minutes remaining. Five straight points by Thomas capped a flurry that got Duke as close as 77-69 with 3:59 left, but the Blue Devils managed just four points the rest of the way.
Foul trouble hurt Duke, which saw the Tar Heels shoot 44 free throws to the Blue Devils' 18. Starting forward Joy Cheek and reserve Keturah Jackson fouled out, and two other players finished with four fouls.
"We had too many people chalking up fouls today, and it cost us," Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "We need to make sure we have our full depth and stay out of foul trouble in the future."
Larkins was joined on the all-tournament first team by teammates Pringle and McCants, Duke's Waner and Virginia's Monica Wright. UNC's DeGraffenreid, Duke's Wanisha Smith and Cheek, Maryland's Crystal Langhorne and Boston College's Mickel Picco were named to the second team.
Sunday's championship game drew a crowd of 11,132. A record 72,114 fans attended this year's four-day tournament.
2008 ACC Women's Basketball All-Tournament Team