7:30 PM ET, March 7, 2005
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) -- Seven years had passed since North Carolina cut down the nets at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, a span that saw Duke pass the Tar Heels as the league's premier program.On Monday night, the Tar Heels (No. 3 ESPN/USA Today; No. 4 AP) finally returned to the top in satisfying fashion. North Carolina put a harsh end to Duke's run at ACC history, getting 26 points from Ivory Latta in an 88-67 victory in the tournament championship game. Camille Little added 23 points for the Tar Heels (27-3), who completed a three-game season sweep of the rival Blue Devils (28-4). The victory gave North Carolina an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and their first tournament title since winning back-to-back championships in 1997-98. Duke (No. 6 ESPN/USA Today; No. 5 AP) was trying to become the first team -- men's or women's -- to win six straight ACC tourney titles. But the Blue Devils went down with surprising ease against an aggressive, athletic Tar Heels squad that just seemed to have Duke's number this season. After the game, North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell and the Tar Heels celebrated their win by cutting down the nets with a pair of gold scissors -- the same ones the Tar Heels used to cut down the NCAA championship nets in 1994. They apparently hadn't been used since that last ACC title. "It's been a long time since we've done this," said Hatchell, who wore one of the cut-down nets around her neck. Duke had beaten North Carolina 12 straight times entering the season, including four of the past five title games during a run that had made the event little more than the Duke Invitational. The Blue Devils had won 17 straight tournament games and were 19-0 all-time in the Greensboro Coliseum. Included were two victories in the 1999 NCAA East Regional that propelled Duke to its first Final Four. But this time, the Blue Devils didn't quite have the same athleticism and depth. Gone were stars Alana Beard and Iciss Tillis, and the Blue Devils were left with just eight players on the bench this season. And though league player of the year Monique Currie scored 26 points in her usual stellar form, the Blue Devils could not extend their incredible streak. "I felt like we were ready to play and I wanted the freshmen to have the experience that everybody else has had here," Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said. "I'm just really disappointed for the players. I thought the third time was going to be the charm for us against Carolina." The top-seeded Tar Heels had struggled offensively for much of the tournament, trailing ninth-seeded Miami in the quarterfinals and rallying from a 17-point deficit to beat Virginia in the semifinals. Hatchell said the Tar Heels would have to play much better to beat Duke, which had won its first two tournament games by a combined 87 points -- and they did. "I told them they must have been holding out," Hatchell said. "They were ready tonight." North Carolina's offense -- thanks to an early spark from Little -- shook off a slow start to build a 12-point first-half lead. Then, after the Blue Devils closed the gap to 44-41 early in the second half, the Tar Heels finally put their one-time nemesis away with a 27-10 run. The Tar Heels got contributions from just about everywhere. Freshman Erlana Larkins, quiet for most of the game, had two inside scores and assisted on a kickout 3-pointer by Little and a backdoor layup by Latta. Latta also had two key plays to set up baskets, making a no-look bounce pass to La'Tangela Atkinson for a 3-pointer and feeding Little for a 3 just before the shot clock expired. That shot pushed the lead to 71-51 with 8:12 to play and had the Tar Heels starting to celebrate. Latta followed up a career-best 32 points against the Cavaliers with a 7-for-11 shooting performance to earn tournament MVP honors. North Carolina pushed the lead to as many as 25 points, with Duke getting no closer than 12 thereafter. It was quite a different feeling from last year, when Hatchell made the Tar Heels stay on the court to watch the Blue Devils celebrate a 63-47 win in last year's final. "While sitting down there [last year], I said, 'Coach we're going to get us one next year,' " Latta said. "Today was the day. ... I'm just so excited. I'm on cloud nine right now. I don't know when I'm coming down." Atkinson had an excellent game for the Tar Heels, finishing with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Larkins added 16 points and 10 boards. North Carolina shot 44 percent, went 10-for-19 from behind the 3-point arc. Duke shot 33 percent against North Carolina's aggressive defense and went 5 minutes without a basket during the decisive surge.
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Team Stat Comparison
|FG Made-Attempted||22-68 (.324)||27-63 (.429)|
|3P Made-Attempted||6-19 (.316)||10-20 (.500)|
|FT Made-Attempted||17-24 (.708)||24-32 (.750)|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||23 (0/0)||20 (0/0)|