Little, Latta help Tar Heels drop Virginia Tech in ACC quarters

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- North Carolina just might have regained its swagger, and all it took was a lot of Little and some Latta.

Camille Little scored 20 points, Ivory Latta added 17 and the No. 4 Tar Heels began their push for a third straight Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title by routing Virginia Tech 90-60 in a quarterfinal Friday night.

And a North Carolina team that lost three of six to close the regular season appeared to have rediscovered the rhythm that had led to a 24-0 start.

"We're just getting better as we go along," Latta said. "Coach says it's a new season, so we've got to be focused and be ready every single night, because nobody wants to lose and go home, so you've got to be eager and determined to go out there and fight on."

Latta was 5-of-6 from 3-point range for the second-seeded Tar Heels (28-3), who led by as many as 41 points in advancing to a semifinal Saturday against Maryland (No. 5 ESPN/USA Today; No. 6 AP), which beat Georgia Tech 75-59.

Four of Latta's 3s came in the first half while North Carolina's offense was putting on a clinic. The Tar Heels made nearly 73 percent of their 3s and shot 63 percent overall in building a 25-point halftime lead.

"I think we're going in the right direction. Don't you?" North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said.

Nare Diawara scored 17 points, Kirby Copeland had 12 and Brittany Cook added 10 for seventh-seeded Virginia Tech (18-14), which couldn't overcome 27 turnovers or a defense that couldn't stop North Carolina when it mattered most.

"They played good defense ... We just couldn't get any movement," Copeland said.

Jessica Breland had 12 points and Rashanda McCants added 11 for the Tar Heels, who haven't lost in the conference tournament since falling to Duke in the 2004 championship game.

North Carolina entered this year's tournament with shaken confidence. After starting the season with 24 straight wins, they went 3-3 during their next six games with two losses to Duke and one to North Carolina State. And in the moments after the second loss to the Blue Devils, Hatchell expressed concern that as the most important part of the season was ready to begin, her team wasn't playing its best basketball.

But in their postseason opener, the Tar Heels showed how good they can be, and wasted little time pouncing on a team they dominated two months ago.

They scored the first seven points as part of a 24-6 run to start the game. Less than 9 minutes into the first half, North Carolina had built a 20-point lead while forcing 11 turnovers.

"Focus -- Coach was talking about being focused at the beginning of the game," Latta said. "We came out with a lot of intensity. We were very focused on what we had to do. We came out with a great start. ... The main thing is for us to stay focused and come out with a lot of intensity."

Little's 3-pointer 2 seconds before the buzzer pushed the lead to 50-25 and made the Tar Heels 8-for-11 from behind the arc in the first half.

"If it could go wrong for Virginia Tech, it did," Hokies coach Beth Dunkenberger said. "If it could go right for Carolina, it did."

North Carolina improved to 9-2 in the series and hasn't lost to Virginia Tech since 1984, a span of seven straight victories. Most recently, Latta scored 24 points and Little had 19 in a 102-68 rout of the Hokies on Jan. 4 in Chapel Hill.

Virginia Tech's appearance in the ACC tournament ended in the quarterfinals for the second straight year. The Hokies fell to 2-3 in the event since they joined the league in 2004-05.