- Nancy Lieberman, Basketball analyst / Writer
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BOSTON -- The most emotional player in Boston didn't seem to play with any on Sunday. And now, Ivory Latta and North Carolina are headed home.
Though Latta finished with 14 points in Maryland's 81-70 upset, the Tar Heels' point guard played what had to be her most disappointing game of the season. Whether flexing for LeBron James or hitting the back-breaking shot in games, Latta has been North Carolina's emotional leader for three seasons now. Her tenacious and intense give-it-your-all style carried North Carolina to its first Final Four in 12 years and earned Latta numerous accolades this season.
But once the national semifinals tipped off Sunday against Maryland at TD BankNorth Garden, Latta played with no enthusiasm or energy. She never attacked the rim or established herself. At halftime, she was 3-for-7 from the field, then attempted only two more shots at the midway point of the second half.
One has to wonder if Latta played herself out of the game with her dramatic exit with 12:24 to play in the first half. After landing awkwardly on her left leg, Latta had to be carried off the floor. Though she returned after missing just 1 minute, 39 seconds, she never got into any sort of rhythm. When you're in the Final Four, you have to go out with your guns blazing, but Latta rarely even looked to attack the rim. In the end, the Tar Heels' leading scorer (18.6 ppg) and a 46 percent shooter finished just 5-for-17 from the field, including a 1-of-10 night from 3-point range.
Maryland, of course, deserves a lot of credit for its game plan. The Terps broke down the Tar Heels' 1-3-1 zone from the start, and though Maryland freshman point guard Kristi Toliver committed 12 turnovers, she never seemed frazzled and played with the sort of swagger we usually see in Latta. Toliver continuously backed into La'Tangela Atkinson at the top of the zone, which spread out Carolina's defense and allowed Terps posts Crystal Langhorne and Laura Harper to crash the bottom of the zone from each side. Toliver fed them with sharp, crisp passes, helping the duo score a combined 47 of Maryland's 50 points in the paint. The Terps shot 56 percent from the field for the game, including 65 percent accuracy in the second half.
Harper and Langhorne were magnificent. Langhorne, who should have been a Kodak All-American this season, also finished with just two turnovers in 39 minutes, while Harper added nine rebounds. Jade Perry, who played just eight minutes, also was crucial in the win, taking some defensive pressure off Langhorne and Harper while giving the Terps another body to bang with UNC's Erlana Larkins in the paint.
Larkins was UNC's true bright spot, finishing with game-high 28 points on 9-for-17 shooting from the field. If Latta or the rest of the Tar Heels had played with Larkins' passion and energy, UNC might have won.
Still, Maryland's starters each played at least 31 minutes and were the total package, scoring all 81 of the Terps' points.
Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.
The most emotional player in Boston didn't seem to play with any on Sunday. And now, Ivory Latta and North Carolina are headed home.