4:30 PM ET, March 3, 2007
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- All the talk about fourth-ranked North Carolina begins with the "Three Ls" -- Ivory Latta, Erlana Larkins and Camille Little.On Saturday, LaToya Pringle did her best to make it a quartet.The 6-foot-3 junior scored 11 points and hit the go-ahead basket with 1:36 left to lead the Tar Heels past Maryland (No. 5 ESPN/USA Today; No. 6 AP) 78-72 in an Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinal, giving North Carolina its sixth straight trip to the championship game.Pringle also had four blocks -- including one on a 3-pointer with her team holding a four-point lead -- in a strong late-game performance for the second-seeded Tar Heels (29-3), who are looking for their third straight title. North Carolina advances to the final Sunday against North Carolina State (No. 25 ESPN/USA Today; No. 24 AP), which upset top-ranked and previously unbeaten Duke 70-65 earlier Saturday."They can get all the attention," Pringle said of her heralded teammates. "I like being the one that, you know, people don't really look at because when I have a big game it makes it so much easier for the 'Three Ls.' I kind of like being the underdog."Pringle -- who has started every game and averages 10.1 points and 7.2 rebounds -- went 5-for-7 with five rebounds and two steals against the third-seeded Terrapins (27-5). The Tar Heels also got a boost off the bench from freshman Jessica Breland, who had 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting to help tip the outcome in a rematch of last year's tournament final.North Carolina got its typical steady performances from its leading trio as well. All-American Latta finished with 19 points to move within nine points of breaking the school's career scoring record. Larkins added 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Little had 11 points, six rebounds and five assists.The matchup had a familiar postseason flavor. Maryland handed North Carolina its only regular-season loss last year, then avenged its ACC tournament loss by beating the Tar Heels in the Final Four en route to the program's first national championship.The Tar Heels took this year's regular-season meeting 84-71 on the road on Jan. 28. They followed up by leading almost the entire way Saturday and holding off a couple of late surges by the Terrapins, who rallied from 10 points down to tie it in the final minutes but never led."We didn't want to go home," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. "We battled for the full 40 minutes. A Final Four game -- that's what it felt like."Trailing 64-55 with 5:51 left, Maryland made its final push, erasing the deficit on Kristi Toliver's jumper with 2:03 to play. The Tar Heels responded by going inside to Pringle, who banked in a turnaround over all-conference performer Crystal Langhorne for a 69-67 lead."I just saw Toya down there, and I've definitely got confidence that she was going to make the shot, and she had great position," Latta said. "I just threw it in to her, next thing I know I ran down the court because I knew she was going to make the shot."Then, after a missed drive by Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood, Alex Miller rebounded the ball and threw it to Latta for a breakaway layup and a 71-67 lead with 1:07 left.Pringle also stepped up on defense late, deflecting Shay Doron's 3-point shot on the next possession. That led to a pair of free throws from Latta with 32.3 seconds left, part of North Carolina's 7-for-8 shooting from the line that sealed it."I thought that down the stretch we really showed some mental toughness," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said.Marissa Coleman led the Terps with 18 points and Langhorne had 16.
Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press
Team Stat Comparison
|FG Made-Attempted||27-57 (.474)||28-58 (.483)|
|3P Made-Attempted||6-15 (.400)||6-18 (.333)|
|FT Made-Attempted||12-16 (.750)||16-20 (.800)|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||22 (0/0)||20 (0/0)|