7:30 PM ET, December 20, 2006
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) -- North Carolina's Ivory Latta can still smile, even when she isn't the leading scorer.On a night when the Tar Heels ebullient senior star was off target, No. 2 North Carolina was as strong ever, remaining undefeated with its 13th straight win, an 87-43 victory over St. John's on Wednesday nightErlana Larkins had 17 points and 14 rebounds, Rashanda McCants matched her career high with 16 points and LaToya Pringle was three blocks shy of the program's first triple-double. The depth the team has showed this season makes Latta as happy as if she were leading the way by herself."That's great. They can do that any given night," said Latta, who came in as the team's leading scorer. "Me, I don't need to go out and score 30 or 40 points to prove myself. ... Right now, my goal is to make everybody else better."So far, so good.Larkins and McCants got the Tar Heels (13-0) going when Latta struggled.McCants had 11 points and Larkins 10 in the opening half, when North Carolina used a 29-7 run to take control. Pringle chipped in with 12 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks. Latta, North Carolina's do-everything star the past four seasons, had only two foul shots during the decisive run."That's the strength of our team, our depth and our balance," Tar Heels coach Sylvia Hatchell said.McCants, a sophomore who's the younger sister of former Tar Heel star Rashad McCants, matched her career best in points, which she achieved three previous times this season.Larkins and Pringle each tied their career rebounding bests."We got off to a good start and kind of simmered down," Larkins said. "Coach always tells us to get our second wind, so I guess we got our second wind."As they did Monday night in defeating Coastal Carolina 87-48, the Tar Heels turned up the pressure midway through the first half to take control.St. John's got to 16-10 on a basket by Joy McCorvey with 13 minutes left in the opening half. But then the Tar Heels closed the period with their backbreaking run.McCants started the surge with a three-point play and Jessica Breland and Heather Claytor followed with 3-pointers.When Alex Miller hit a driving layup and got fouled for a three-point play, North Carolina was ahead 45-14.The Red Storm made only one field goal over a 12-minute span. The margin might have been worse if Charisse Curtis hadn't banked in a 3-pointer for St. John's with 4.2 seconds before the break.Monique McLean led St. John's (3-8) with 15 points."We did well the first 10 minutes, but I think they just wore us down," St. John's coach Kim Barnes Arico said. "They have such a great rotation, after the first 10 minutes, we started to turn the ball over and they killed us on the glass."North Carolina outrebounded St. John's 50-34 overall and 25-14 on the offensive boards.Latta, a South Carolina native who's averaged 19 points in four previous college games at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, finished with 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting.The Tar Heels opened with 13 straight wins for the second consecutive season. They're still a ways from last year's 22-0 start, however.The Red Storm came in averaging about 18 turnovers a game, yet committed 15 in the opening period. Then again, North Carolina has made that routine its past four games.It has taken leads of 23 points or better into halftime of its past four games. In Monday night's win over Coastal, the Tar Heels forced 16 first-half turnovers to go up 45-18 at the half.Larkins says it's been easy to stay focused during the series of blowout victories. After all, she and her teammates know Atlantic Coast Conference play starts the day after New Year's."The closer we get to ending these games, the sooner we get into ACC play," Larkins said.