TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- The trip was long, the crowd was hostile and
the hour was late for the North Carolina women.
Still, the top-seeded Tar Heels persevered, beating Arizona
State on its home court 79-72 in the semifinals of the Tempe
Regional of the NCAA Tournament.
"We're the only team that had to go play somebody on their home
court, so that made it tougher," North Carolina coach Sylvia
Hatchell said. "Also, it's 20 minutes to 2 (a.m.) in North
Carolina. Most coaches would have said a lot about that, but I
didn't do that. I just told them, `Hey, that's going to make us
Tipoff didn't come until 9:30 p.m. MST.
Arizona State had the home crowd roaring and the 3-point shots
falling, at least for a while. That wasn't enough against the
quick, strong Tar Heels.
North Carolina (30-3), chosen as a No. 1 seed over top-ranked
Stanford, dominated play inside to advance to Monday night's
regional final against No. 2 seed Baylor, a 64-57 winner over
Minnesota in Saturday's first game at Wells Fargo Arena.
Ivory Latta, North Carolina's point guard who is optimistically
listed at 5-feet-6, scored four of her 20 points in the final
minute to help seal the victory, shaking off an earlier wrist
injury to stay in the game.
"I just tried not to think about it because my teammates were
telling me, `Ivory, we need you, suck it up, you'll be all
right,"' Latta said. "That's the only thing I need to hear."
Freshman Erlana Larkins had 18 points and matched her career
high with 14 rebounds. La'Tangela Atkinson had 14 and Nikita Bell
added 11 of her 13 points in the second half when North Carolina
finally pulled away.
Kylan Loney, who broke her nose in the team's second-round
victory over Notre Dame, scored 18 points, including 3-of-6
3-pointers, in her final game for the Sun Devils (24-10), who lost
for only the second time in 14 home games this season. The other
loss was to Stanford, the No. 2 seed in the Kansas City Regional.
Loney, her eyes red with tears, thanked the crowd of 8,213 for
showing up and being so loud.
"That was unbelievable," she said. "It made my last game
Kristen Kovesdy added 13 points for Arizona State, but only two
in the second half when she was in foul trouble. Aubree Johnson had
12. Emily Westerberg, Arizona State's all-Pac 10 forward, also
scored 12 points but was just 3-for-16 from the field.
"I think it was tougher than we thought it would be," Larkins
said. "They had a great environment. They were the home team. They
came out and played really hard."
Down just 46-42 at the break, Arizona State tied it twice early
in the second half, the last time at 48 on Loney's 16-footer with
17:33 to play. But Bell had eight points, including two three-point
plays, in a 10-3 run that put the Tar Heels ahead 58-51.
The pesky Sun Devils stayed close though, and Amy Denson's two
free throws cut the lead to 62-60 with 9:29 to go.
Larkins' rebound basket boosted the lead to 66-62 with 8:40 to
play. Arizona State never got closer than four after that.
After falling behind 6-0, the Sun Devils got the crowd going
with a 13-0 run, nine of them by Loney -- two 3-pointers and three
free throws when she was fouled on another 3-point try.
The lead reached 20-10 on Aubree Johnson's 15-footer with 12:54
to play in the first half.
But the Tar Heels came back, dominating play inside in a 13-2
surge to go up 30-26 on Latta's 25-foot 3-pointer 5:44 before the
break. Larkins, a 6-2 freshman, scored on a layup and rebound in a
6-0 spurt that put North Carolina ahead 44-35 with 2:36 to play in
Arizona State's fifth 3-pointer of the half, by Johnson,
triggered a 7-2 Sun Devils run to finish the opening 20 minutes.
North Carolina made the regional finals for the third time, its
first since 1998. The Tar Heels won the national title in 1994.