DALLAS -- Ivory Latta snatched the rebound and immediately
looked at the clock. Only 10 seconds left.
Just 10 seconds until she was going back to the Final Four.
Latta held to the ball and hardly moved a muscle, except to
flash a smile that stretched as the clock thinned. Once the buzzer
sounded on North Carolina's 84-72 victory over Purdue in the finals
of the Dallas Regional on Tuesday night, the senior star threw the
ball straight up and ran to join her teammates in celebration.
She blew kisses to the crowd and slapped on a Final Four hat.
Later, she wound up with the cut-down net as her new necklace.
Act like you've been there before? No way, not after having hurt
her knee in last year's Final Four, then having had to fight
through various things this season, all the way down to a leg cramp
that sent her to the locker room several minutes before halftime of
"I've definitely sacrificed a lot to make sure my team gets
back there," said Latta, who scored 21 points, her most this
tournament. "I'll do whatever it takes, I'll lay my body out on
the line every single night. I don't think it hit me yet. When I
get back to Chapel Hill, I'll bust out crying or something like
North Carolina has been knocked out in the late rounds of the
NCAA tournament by the eventual champion each of the last two
seasons. Last year's title shot was ruined when Latta hurt her knee
early in a loss to Maryland in the national semifinal.
Now Latta and the Tar Heels -- who improved to 34-3, setting a
school record for wins -- get to try again, starting with the
dubious honor of facing fellow No. 1 seed Tennessee in Cleveland on
"I'm definitely going there to get a job done," Latta said.
The hardest work done Tuesday night was in the paint, where
UNC's Erlana Larkins dominated the Boilermakers (31-6). She scored
20 of her career-high 29 points in the lane and grabbed 10
North Carolina scored a total of 52 points in the paint, while
limiting Purdue to just 28 from such close range.
"They're real physical and tough down there," Boilermakers
forward Erin Lawless said. "They're fantastic down low."
These teams played a regional semifinal last year that was
decided in the final seconds, when Latta broke a tie by banking in
a high-arching layup then Purdue's Katie Gearlds missing a
The Boilermakers grabbed control of this game with an 11-2 run
midway through the first half. The Tar Heels answered with a 16-2
spurt that put them back ahead, but looked to be in trouble when
Latta limped off the court and went to the locker room after
scoring the last bucket in that stretch.
UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said she didn't have a Maryland
flashback "because I knew it wasn't her knee."
"I knew she'd be back," Hatchell said. "When you're playing a
game like this, there is no pain. Ivory is a winner. ... Ivory is
our floor leader, our general."
Latta kept up a bit suspense by being the 11th of the 13 UNC
players of the tunnel at halftime. Then Larkins, who was named the
most outstanding player of the regional, gave North Carolina some
breathing room with eight quick points.
But the Boilermakers made it close once more, getting within
64-60 with 6:47 left when Gearlds fed Jodi Howell for a layup,
forcing the Tar Heels to call a time out and drawing a scream and
an exultant jab from Gearlds.
After Latta missed a 3-pointer on the other end, Gearlds put up
a 3 of her own -- and got nothing but air. She couldn't help but
laugh and pat her chest, saying "My bad" as she looked at the
Yet Purdue's last chance of getting to the Final Four in its
first season under coach Sharon Versyp was done. Larkins had a
three-point play, then assisted on two straight baskets and the Tar
Heels pulled away for good.
"We never were able to get over that hump," said Gearlds, who
scored 28 points. "I'm proud of us for battling back. We weren't
going to quit. I thought we showed a lot of character."
When the game ended, Gearlds, a senior, walked to the bench
slowly, the front collar of her jersey pulled over her mouth. She'd
tied the school single-season record for points, but could've used
more from her teammates in this one.
"I left it all out there, but I didn't do enough for my team to
win," she said. "It hurts."
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton was the next-highest scorer for Purdue
with only 14 before fouling out. Lawless had 10 before also fouling
Howell, playing with a wrap under her left shoulder because of
an injury sustained the previous round, had seven points, two
assists and two steals in 17 minutes.
North Carolina's Rashanda McCants -- whose brother, Rashad, was
on UNC's most recent men's championship team -- scored 15 points.
Camille Little added 10 and LaToya Pringle had seven points and 10
"I know I've got players around me who can get the job done and
score," Latta said.