Tar Heels hope to ride 'L' train to title
Larkins. Latta. Little.
Halfway down the list of preseason candidates for the Wooden Award, the alphabetical roster runs straight into three successive North Carolina Tar Heels.
Every player on the list is a highly skilled individual, and the three Tar Heels are no exception. And together, Erlana Larkins, Ivory Latta and Camille Little will be chiefly responsible for the fate of UNC's pursuit of a national championship.
Adding to the intrigue this season is the memory of a failed effort to secure the title in April as the favorites at the Final Four. There will be a sense of urgency in Chapel Hill for seniors Latta and Little to win a championship they never doubted would be theirs when they arrived on campus four years ago.
The trio's teamwork has proved profitable for the North Carolina program. Larkins, Latta and Little are simply the best trio that suit up for the same college team. They ranked 1-2-3 in scoring last season for UNC, combining for 44 points per game with Latta leading the way at 18.3 ppg. Furthermore, this is their third year together, which breeds confidence and familiarity (Little and Latta have played together for the past five years, linking up on a summer AAU team in high school).
Latta is a 5-foot-6 point guard who returns for her final campaign as the reigning ACC Player of the Year. She is one of the best 3-point shooters and free-throw shooters in ACC history. She is the luminary of the Tar Heels, the body that gives off light and guides the way for the entire team. When under control and on the run, Latta can be an unstoppable force in the women's game.
"Ivory is such a presence on the floor," Little said. "She's going all out all the time, and if she's not tired, the rest of us feel that we can keep going, too."
Little, a 6-2 forward, is versatile enough to play several positions on the floor. There is a certain lubricity to her game, a slipperiness and smoothness that make her a tough matchup. She is a big reason the Tar Heels allowed only 60 points per game last season, forcing turnovers and putting pressure on smaller ball handlers.
And -- good news for UNC fans -- she returns this season fully rejuvenated after taking some time away from the game this summer.
"I realized how much I missed the game," Little admitted, "and rediscovered my passion to play."
Larkins' passion never seems to wane as the 6-1 junior forward is a relentless worker. The basketball is her lodestone; she's attracted to it as if by magnetic force. She has a knack for getting loose balls and rebounds, for jumping in passing lanes and finishing near the rim. Larkins is a good shot blocker, passer and shooter whose most important statistic for Tar Heels fans is her perfect 5-0 career record against Duke.
"Erlana is so strong and knows how to use her body, " Little said, "but at the same time, she's quick and runs the floor so well that she gives us an advantage inside."
So, all the pieces seem to be in place for North Carolina. Little says the trio will provide the leadership and logistics for the rest of the team.
"We had a team meeting when practice started, and we laid it out for everyone," she said. "This year it's personal for us because we know it's our last year together. We'll be real hard on each other. We talk about our goal every day, and that's to win a national championship. We take pride in that."
So have the Tar Heels overcome the letdown of getting launched out of the Final Four last season? We'll see. And there are plenty of tests along the way. UNC's schedule includes Tennessee, UConn, Maryland and Duke, a potential Final Four this year. It's a daunting task that should keep Carolina in the limelight throughout the campaign.
Now, can "The Three L's" cement their legacy with the last piece of the puzzle?
"We came up short last year, and we know we have work to do," she said. "We know how to get to the Final Four, so now let's go ahead and win it."Beth Mowins is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage.
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