9:00 PM ET, March 27, 2007
DALLAS -- Ivory Latta snatched the rebound and immediately looked at the clock. Only 10 seconds left.
Just 10 seconds until she was going back to the Final Four.
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She blew kisses to the crowd and slapped on a Final Four hat. Later, she wound up with the cut-down net as her new necklace.
Act like you've been there before? No way, not after having hurt her knee in last year's Final Four, then having had to fight through various things this season, all the way down to a leg cramp that sent her to the locker room several minutes before halftime of this game.
"I've definitely sacrificed a lot to make sure my team gets back there," said Latta, who scored 21 points, her most this tournament. "I'll do whatever it takes, I'll lay my body out on the line every single night. I don't think it hit me yet. When I get back to Chapel Hill, I'll bust out crying or something like that."
Now Latta and the Tar Heels -- who improved to 34-3, setting a school record for wins -- get to try again, starting with the dubious honor of facing fellow No. 1 seed Tennessee in Cleveland on Sunday.
"I'm definitely going there to get a job done," Latta said.
The hardest work done Tuesday night was in the paint, where UNC's Erlana Larkins dominated the Boilermakers (31-6). She scored 20 of her career-high 29 points in the lane and grabbed 10 rebounds.
North Carolina scored a total of 52 points in the paint, while limiting Purdue to just 28 from such close range.
"They're real physical and tough down there," Boilermakers forward Erin Lawless said. "They're fantastic down low."
These teams played a regional semifinal last year that was decided in the final seconds, when Latta broke a tie by banking in a high-arching layup then Purdue's Katie Gearlds missing a desperation heave. The Boilermakers grabbed control of this game with an 11-2 run midway through the first half. The Tar Heels answered with a 16-2 spurt that put them back ahead, but looked to be in trouble when Latta limped off the court and went to the locker room after scoring the last bucket in that stretch.
UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said she didn't have a Maryland flashback "because I knew it wasn't her knee."
"I knew she'd be back," Hatchell said. "When you're playing a game like this, there is no pain. Ivory is a winner. ... Ivory is our floor leader, our general."
Latta kept up a bit suspense by being the 11th of the 13 UNC players of the tunnel at halftime. Then Larkins, who was named the most outstanding player of the regional, gave North Carolina some breathing room with eight quick points.
But the Boilermakers made it close once more, getting within 64-60 with 6:47 left when Gearlds fed Jodi Howell for a layup, forcing the Tar Heels to call a time out and drawing a scream and an exultant jab from Gearlds.
After Latta missed a 3-pointer on the other end, Gearlds put up a 3 of her own -- and got nothing but air. She couldn't help but laugh and pat her chest, saying "My bad" as she looked at the bench.
Yet Purdue's last chance of getting to the Final Four in its first season under coach Sharon Versyp was done. Larkins had a three-point play, then assisted on two straight baskets and the Tar Heels pulled away for good.
"We never were able to get over that hump," said Gearlds, who scored 28 points. "I'm proud of us for battling back. We weren't going to quit. I thought we showed a lot of character."
When the game ended, Gearlds, a senior, walked to the bench slowly, the front collar of her jersey pulled over her mouth. She'd tied the school single-season record for points, but could've used more from her teammates in this one.
"I left it all out there, but I didn't do enough for my team to win," she said. "It hurts."
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton was the next-highest scorer for Purdue with only 14 before fouling out. Lawless had 10 before also fouling out.
Howell, playing with a wrap under her left shoulder because of an injury sustained the previous round, had seven points, two assists and two steals in 17 minutes.
North Carolina's Rashanda McCants -- whose brother, Rashad, was on UNC's most recent men's championship team -- scored 15 points. Camille Little added 10 and LaToya Pringle had seven points and 10 rebounds.
"I know I've got players around me who can get the job done and score," Latta said.
Team Stat Comparison
|FG Made-Attempted||28-62 (.452)||33-60 (.550)|
|3P Made-Attempted||8-20 (.400)||2-10 (.200)|
|FT Made-Attempted||8-10 (.800)||16-25 (.640)|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||19 (0/0)||9 (0/0)|