NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- After wiping away a few tears, Hall of Fame coach Van Chancellor decided it would be silly to deny his players -- or himself -- an opportunity to cut down the nets.
Chancellor wanted to keep LSU focused on its opportunity to win the school's first national title, yet it hit him that the Lady Tigers' fifth straight trip to the Final Four, and his first, was worth celebrating.
"You're supposed to get up here and be reserved and be a gracious winner. Throw that out the door," Chancellor began. "I am thoroughly enjoying it. I don't intend to sleep a wink tonight."
Sylvia Fowles had 21 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots, lifting LSU to a 56-50 victory over top-seeded North Carolina on Monday night.
LSU (31-5) and Connecticut are now the only teams to make five straight appearances in a Final Four, and no team has made six.
"We knew it was our last year and we wanted to go all out," said Fowles, named the most outstanding player of the New Orleans Regional.
For North Carolina (33-3), forced to play before a hostile crowd wearing purple and gold, the loss snapped a 16-game winning streak and left the Tar Heels one victory short of a third straight Final Four appearance.
LaToya Pringle led the Tar Heels with 21 points and 11 rebounds, with all but two of the points coming in the second half. It was not enough, however, as the rest of her team combined for only 10 points after the break.
"The only player that really played like they usually do is LaToya," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "It was tough coming down here playing in this environment.
"It was a very ugly game. I mean, who wants to watch a game 56-50? It was very different than how we normally play. ... LSU probably had a lot to do with that," Hatchell said.
North Carolina came in with five players scoring in double figures, but Pringle was the only one to eclipse 10. Rashanda McCants scored nine and Jessica Breland eight. Erlana Larkins had 11 rebounds but managed only five points.
"Defense has been our bread and butter all year," Fowles said. "We knew if we came out here and played defense, our offense would pick up. We've played great defense the last few years."
LSU's defense was memorable against Carolina, which hadn't scored fewer than 71 points in a game all season.
"When you're in a defensive slugfest, it's not going to be pretty," LSU point guard Erica White said. "The most important thing is to win and to defend."
After the buzzer sounded, the LSU band broke into a some Mardi Gras music and LSU players danced together at center court. Then they cut down the nets. Chancellor pointed at his players and smiled widely before making his cut.
"I said I wasn't going to let them tear the nets down but I changed my mind, and if you want to know why, I just though it was a great thrill for the kids and I wanted to do it personally," said Chancellor, who kept the game ball with him while he addressed the media.
Chancellor coached 19 years at Mississippi, reaching four regional finals. He then moved on to the WNBA, where he won four titles with the Houston Comets. He also won a FIBA world championship in 2002 and Olympic gold in 2004 before a brief retirement.
That ended when LSU, a team with eight seniors -- including all five starters -- needed a coach because of the resignation last year of Pokey Chatman amid reports that she once had an improper relationship with a player no longer with the team.
Chancellor came in and guided LSU to an SEC regular-season title, and the Lady Tigers ended up getting a second seed after losing to Tennessee in the championship game of the SEC tournament.
Quianna Chaney scored 13 points for LSU, hitting three 3-pointers. White had eight points, six on free throws inside the last two minutes to help LSU prevent a North Carolina comeback.
Fowles scored twice inside early in the second half as LSU took a 30-23 lead.
North Carolina could only rely on Pringle through the first 11 minutes of the second half, but that was enough to keep the Tar Heels in the game for a time. Pringle scored 11 points during that span, all inside, and one on a putback as she was fouled for a three-point play.
"We just didn't move as fluidly as we usually do," Pringle said. "I don't know what contributed to that but we just weren't clicking on all cylinders today."
Tough defense defined much of the game, as both teams shot below 40 percent and combined for 30 turnovers.