UNC beats UConn, reaches 20 victories without a loss

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -- Ivory Latta caught a pass and dodged Connecticut's swipe at the ball. There wasn't any time for the North Carolina star to dwell on what was happening -- or how, seconds earlier, she gave the ball away.

"I caught it and shot it," Latta said. "I wasn't thinking. I just shot it."

Good strategy.

Latta's 3-pointer with 1:02 remaining gave No. 2 North Carolina the lead for good and helped the Tar Heels remain undefeated with an 82-76 win over the Huskies (No. 5 ESPN/USA Today; No. 6 AP) on Monday night.

The go-ahead shot came after coach Sylvia Hatchell sensed Latta was struggling and expressed confidence in her.

"I told her 'You're my point guard and the best point guard in the country,' because I knew down the stretch that she would make big plays and help us," Hatchell said.

LaToya Pringle scored 18 points and Erlana Larkins added 15 points and a personal-best 16 rebounds for the Tar Heels (20-0), who blew a 15-point lead and overcame 26 turnovers to remain one of two teams with perfect records.

Kalana Greene had tied it at 76 with 2:12 to play, and Latta threw the ball away on North Carolina's next possession. But she soon made up for it by taking a pass at the top of the key, sweeping the ball past a defender and hitting a clutch 3 to put North Carolina ahead to stay. She added two free throws in the final minute to seal the victory.

"We made two mistakes against Ivory Latta today," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "One, we went for the steal. Two, we didn't get out on her late in the game. Other than that, we did a great job on her."

Greene had 23 points to lead the Huskies (14-2), who lost their third straight in the series. And just as in their loss to Tennessee a week earlier, they fell into a deep second-half hole.

"If I was a smarter guy, if I was a more realistic guy, I would say those are the growing pains that young teams go through," Auriemma said. "But this is Connecticut basketball. And you don't play at Connecticut and go through growing pains. You come to Connecticut grown up. … The bottom line is, at Connecticut the only time you're happy is when you win."

Latta finished with 14 points and beat the Huskies for the third time. Camille Little added 13 for the Tar Heels, who kept pace with their archrival -- No. 1 Duke -- as the lone remaining unbeatens and earned their second victory of the season over a marquee opponent. Last month they defeated Tennessee.

"Those teams are measuring sticks because they have for years been at the top of women's basketball with the national championships, the styles of play, coaching, everything," Hatchell said. "For us to have wins against those two, that means a lot for me because I think those two programs have set the bar for a long, long time."

UConn had used a furious rally to erase a 15-point deficit. The Huskies outscored North Carolina 17-4 over a 6-minute span, pulling to 64-62 on Tina Charles' layup with 7 minutes left. They took their first lead 2 minutes later when Renee Montgomery's short jumper made it 70-68 with 4:52 to play.

"We can't get ourselves in a big hole, but we're going to get over the hump," Greene said.

North Carolina took its big second-half lead when back-to-back 3-pointers by Rashanda McCants and Latta and a short jumper by Little made it 60-45 with 13 minutes to play.

In December 2005, the Tar Heels went to Hartford, Conn., and handed Auriemma the worst home loss of his career, a 77-54 rout that left the veteran coach speechless.

His resilient Huskies wouldn't let North Carolina do it again. UConn survived a miserable first-half stretch in which it made 3 of 19 shots and fell behind by 11.

But it was the second straight rough game for Montgomery against a high-profile foe. Tennessee held her to four points, and Montgomery finished this one with six on 3-of-15 shooting. Both Montgomery and Latta struggled in the first half and were each 1-of-8 shooting at halftime.

"[Latta] and Renee conspired to set basketball back 30 years," Auriemma said.