7:00 PM ET, February 2, 2006
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -- The hoopla and excitement surrounding North Carolina's first time at No. 1 surprised even coach Sylvia Hatchell, a 31-year veteran who led the Tar Heels to the 1994 NCAA championship."The last few days have been wild, to put it mildly," she said. "It's been great, the attention, the enthusiasm over the team and our ranking. But everybody's going to give us their best shot."That's what happened Thursday night, and Hatchell's players handled it like the veterans they are.Ivory Latta had 11 of her 18 points in the second half, teammates Erlana Larkins and Camille Little each added 17 points and North Carolina held off North Carolina State (unranked ESPN/USA Today; No. 24 AP) 75-58.Little's total tied a season high for the Tar Heels (21-0, 8-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who remained the only unbeaten women's or men's team in Division I and extended the longest home winning streak in the nation to 30 games.They moved to the top of The Associated Press women's basketball poll following a come-from-behind victory over No. 2 Duke earlier in the week."It was exciting, being the first team in UNC history to be No. 1," Larkins said. "But Sunday's game was over. We knew N.C. State was going to come in and give us their best shot."This one was surprisingly difficult. About 2½ weeks ago, North Carolina won easily in Raleigh to give coach Sylvia Hatchell her 700th career victory.But the rematch was tight until the final minutes, even though the Wolfpack (13-8, 3-5) led only once, midway through the first half. There were four ties, the final one coming at 46 with about 13 minutes remaining on two free throws from Ashley Key."I can't fault the effort we gave," N.C. State coach Kay Yow said.Little had a three-point play on the other end to give put the Tar Heels ahead for good, and Larkins and Christina Dewitt added layups to increase the margin to seven. The Wolfpack scored on consecutive possessions to cut it to 53-50, but that was as close they would get.Larkins worked inside for a basket as she was fouled, and La'Tangela Atkinson used a nifty pass from Latta to score, too, and North Carolina led 68-56 before pulling away."I think that was really good," Larkins said. "If we would have played a team that we would have beaten by 30, that wouldn't have been good for us. We might have gone into the next game and relaxed."Sasha Reeves had a career high with 12 points and 10 rebounds for N.C. State, and Key and Khadijah Whittington also scored 12 points."I wish I had played better at the end," Reeves said. "For the most part, I thought I did OK."The Wolfpack were without leading scorer Tiffany Stansbury, who was suspended for unspecified disciplinary reasons. They also finished 0-for-14 on 3-pointers."We have to have that in a game like this," Yow said. "There was no way we could fare well having one half of our offense."Yet even without Stansbury, her team never gave in to the Tar Heels. It was 30-30 late in the first half before North Carolina scored the final nine points, all on 3-pointers. Atkinson had her only one of the game, and freshman Rashanda McCants added her only two.N.C. State rallied again. With the margin eight soon after halftime, four different players scored for the Wolfpack to force that final tie.Later, Yow inserted 6-foot-7 Gillian Goring into the lineup for the first time, perhaps hoping to pick up a fourth foul on Larkins. The move backfired, however.Goring missed four shots and picked up a foul in 3 minutes, and when she left, what was a three-point lead for the Tar Heels had ballooned to eight."I think, quite honestly, she probably took shots too soon, too quick," Yow said. "She just wanted to help so much."
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