North Carolina wins third straight ACC tourney title

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Ivory Latta fulfilled her promise, and North Carolina had just enough energy to overcome a team playing on adrenaline.

Latta scored 20 points, becoming North Carolina's career scoring leader, and the fourth-ranked Tar Heels ended North Carolina State's emotional run through the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament with a 60-54 win over the Wolfpack (No. 25 ESPN/USA Today; No. 24 AP) in Sunday's championship game.

For 39 minutes the Tar Heels couldn't shake the Wolfpack, who had won 11 of 12 games since coach Kay Yow returned after breast cancer treatments.

The camera lenses often focus most on UNC's stars like Ivory Latta. But if you gloss over the Tar Heels' other starters, you're only getting part of the picture. And it's the other part that sealed UNC's ACC title Sunday, writes Graham Hays. Story

"If I wasn't coaching Carolina, I probably would've been pulling for them, too," Tar Heels coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "I knew we had to overcome the emotion and that's what we talked about all day -- matching the emotion of their team."

And Latta did. Her driving scoop shot in the lane with 35 seconds left gave North Carolina a five-point lead. She then grabbed a rebound with 13 seconds left and hit two free throws to put it away.

And with it Latta gave the Tar Heels their third straight ACC title, something she promised as a freshman after North Carolina lost to Duke in the 2004 title game.

"I just know after that game I had tears in my eyes and I told coach, 'This won't happen again," said Latta, named tournament MVP for the third straight year. "I had to be true to my word with her."

Erlana Larkins added 18 points for North Carolina (30-3), which likely locked up a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament by ending the Wolfpack's storybook ride.

Yow first was diagnosed with cancer 20 years ago, and last November had her second recurrence of the disease. She left the team for two months of treatments, and returned in late February, even though she continues to undergo regular chemotherapy treatments. The team immediately won five straight games, and N.C. State stunned top-ranked and undefeated Duke on Saturday to reach its first ACC final since 2001.

But the Wolfpack ran out of gas against the Tar Heels, who avenged a 72-65 loss to N.C. State two weeks ago by recovering from an early 11-point deficit.

Yow, her voice hoarse from the emotion of the tournament -- and a chemotherapy treatment she underwent Wednesday -- fought back tears after the game.

"Well, I'm overwhelmed by how people tell me I've inspired them. I'm just doing the best I can," said Yow, battling a deep cough. "I get e-mails and cards every day from a lot of people. I'm sorry about my voice, but chemo affected my voice and now we've had three games back to back."

Ashley Key scored 14 points and Shayla Fields added 12 for N.C. State (23-9), which had its five-game winning streak snapped.

"You can't hit a wall emotionally when you've got coach Yow next to you," Key said. "We just didn't come out with a win today, but emotionally we're still there."

The Wolfpack went scoreless for nearly 5 minutes to start the second half, missing six straight shots while North Carolina went on an 8-0 run to take its first lead since early in the game. The Tar Heels extended the lead to 40-31 before the Wolfpack came to life. Khadija Whittington scored four points in a 9-0 run to tie the game.

On the next possession, Latta drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing to ignite a 12-3 run.

But the Wolfpack, inspired all season by their coach and looking for their first ACC title since 1991, got within 55-52 on Shayla Fields' 3-pointer with 1:40 left. Their late-season run likely puts them in position for as high as No. 4 seed for the NCAA Tournament.

"N.C. State played their hearts out. The run they've had is absolutely incredible," Hatchell said. "I really think they need to hold their heads high."

With her players wearing pink shoelaces to show their support for Yow and breast cancer awareness, the Wolfpack got off to a great start. Keisha Brown's three-point play gave N.C. State a 20-9 lead.

Latta then scored seven straight points, the last a layup with 8:20 remaining in the half that moved her past Tracy Reid (2,200 points) to become the school's career scoring leader.

Latta soon picked up her third foul and was on the bench when Fields' driving layup at the buzzer gave N.C. State a 27-24 halftime lead.

But Latta played all 20 minutes in the second half, and now has 2,212 points.

"We were leaving the arena out there, all the little kids were calling her name," Hatchell said. "She's done so much for the game of basketball."