2:00 PM ET, February 25, 2006
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -- Ivory Latta jumped on the scorer's table and raised both hands with one finger extended in the air, telling the crowd that North Carolina was No. 1.After Saturday's win, it would be hard to argue otherwise.Latta scored 18 points to help the second-ranked Tar Heels beat top-ranked Duke 77-65, giving North Carolina the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title and a likely return to the top of the national rankings.Erlana Larkins had 16 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists for the Tar Heels (26-1, 13-1), who led the entire way to earn their fifth straight win in the series. North Carolina earned its second win against a No. 1-ranked team -- both against Duke in the past two seasons -- in 21 tries and earned the top seed in next week's ACC tournament for the second straight year.Senior La'Tangela Atkinson added 16 points and 11 rebounds, part of a dominating effort by the Tar Heels on the glass in a game that displayed their talent, depth and athleticism."We just talked in the locker room that this is great," coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "I congratulated them and asked if this is good enough. And they said, 'No.' They want to do bigger and better things. They're special kids, they have great chemistry and they have fun."The Tar Heels shot 39 percent and hit 2-of-11 3-pointers while committing 23 turnovers. But they controlled the Blue Devils (25-2, 12-2) throughout, scoring the game's first six points and leading by as many as 17 points in the second half.Wanisha Smith scored 16 points to lead the Blue Devils, whose only losses have come against the Tar Heels. Duke heads into the ACC tournament as the second seed, marking the first time the Blue Devils didn't clinch at least a share of the regular-season title in six years.Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said her team didn't make good decisions against North Carolina's aggressive pressure defense, which seemed to unnerve the Blue Devils the entire way. They shot 34 percent, hitting 3-of-21 tries from behind the arc and repeatedly missing layups or other open looks. Duke also finished with 23 turnovers that led to several transition chances for the Tar Heels, with the 5-foot-6 Latta leading the way.Latta had nine turnovers, but finished with five assists, three steals and her second blocked shot of the season."The coaches just told me to keep pushing the ball," Latta said. "I just tried to attack when I saw the frustration on their faces."Before North Carolina's five straight wins, Duke had won 12 in a row. The Tar Heels took all three meetings last year, and rallied from 16 down to beat Duke 74-70 in Cameron Indoor Stadium last month in a matchup of the nation's last unbeaten teams. That win gave North Carolina its first No. 1 ranking."I guess it is something about Carolina that makes us go out there and not play our game," said Duke All-American Monique Currie, who struggled to get 13 points. "They made us make bad decisions and they killed us on the boards."The Tar Heels were outrebounded in seven of their last 10 games, including 46-30 against the Blue Devils in January. But North Carolina finished this game with a 54-44 edge on the glass and had as many offensive boards (25) as Duke did on the defensive end, an area Hatchell emphasized in practice all week."That's the first thing that comes out of her mouth: rebound," said Atkinson, who finished with her fifth straight double-digit rebounding effort against Duke. "Last night, I was dreaming about rebounding, so I just went in every chance I got to get a rebound."Atkinson also led the defensive effort on Currie, who marked her 23rd birthday by shooting 5-for-18.After leading 32-25 at halftime, North Carolina scored on eight straight possessions to take a 51-36 lead with 12:43 left on Larkins' second stickback of the run. That lead grew to 17 points twice, the last time coming on a layup from Alex Miller for a 61-44 lead with 6:42 left.The Blue Devils made a frantic rally to close within five points with 2 minutes left, but could get no closer. Atkinson scored a pair of layups by breaking the press, while the Tar Heels went 6-of-7 at the line in the final two minutes to seal it.The game marked the first advanced sellout for the North Carolina women, requiring the first ticket distribution for students, faculty and staff at Carmichael Auditorium. There was a line of at least 1,000 fans waiting to get in nearly two hours before tipoff.
Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press
Team Stat Comparison
|FG Made-Attempted||24-71 (.338)||29-73 (.397)|
|3P Made-Attempted||3-22 (.136)||2-11 (.182)|
|FT Made-Attempted||14-20 (.700)||17-23 (.739)|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||20 (0/0)||18 (0/0)|