1:00 PM ET, January 26, 2008
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -- In the days following a loss at top-ranked Connecticut, LaToya Pringle felt herself fighting through her quiet personality to become more demanding of her North Carolina teammates in practice.But she figured she owed them a lot more than just words."If you're going to talk a game," she said, "you've got to back it up."Pringle did that Saturday, scoring 12 of her career-high 31 points in the second overtime to help the Tar Heels (No. 4 ESPN/USA Today, No. 3 AP) beat Maryland (No. 3 ESPN/USA Today, No. 4 AP) 97-86.Erlana Larkins had 25 points and 18 rebounds for the Tar Heels (18-2, 5-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who bounced back from Monday's loss to the Huskies with a thrilling home victory.In a matchup befitting the rivalry of recent seasons, North Carolina turned in the kind of steady late-game performance it lacked in road losses to the Huskies -- they led by four with about 5 1/2 minutes left -- and to Tennessee earlier this year. It came in the middle of a tough four-game stretch, which ends with a trip to No. 10 Duke on Feb. 4, that could determine just how good these Tar Heels really are in their first year without graduated stars Ivory Latta and Camille Little.Of course, if Pringle and Larkins keep playing like this, North Carolina should be just fine."They're my warriors," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said of the senior frontcourt mates. "I just don't want to let them graduate. They really are the leaders of our team, and that's the way it should be."Pringle has spent the bulk of her career toiling in the background while Larkins, Latta and Little got the attention in the Tar Heels' run to consecutive Final Fours. Yet against the Terrapins (22-2, 6-1), she made the overtime-forcing three-point play and scored six straight points in the second OT as the Tar Heels finally pulled away.She finished 11-for-16 from the field, pulled down nine rebounds and blocked three shots in 40 minutes. She did all that despite taking an elbow to that cut open her lip midway through the second half, forcing her to change out of her bloodied No. 30 jersey and don the No. 55 with no name on the back."I don't think I'm comfortable with being vocal, but [after UConn] I kind of embraced it," she said. "I don't know what got into me. I've really been trying to motivate my team. If something's going wrong, I try to get it straight."After Larkins knocked down two free throws for the lead just a few seconds into the second overtime, the 6-foot-3 Pringle went to work. She scored inside off a feed from Larkins and knocked down a jumper in the lane off a feed from Jessica Breland before scoring on a putback to make it 87-82 with 1:52 left."Looking at her from freshman year to now, she's grown a lot and she's grown into the leadership role," said Larkins, who grabbed her 1,000th career rebound. "She was always in the right place at the right time."Maryland got no closer the rest of the way, with Pringle going 6-for-6 at the line in the final minute to help seal it.Rashanda McCants added 14 points, nine rebounds and eight assists for North Carolina, which led by 10 points early but had to rally from a seven-point deficit midway through the second half. She also had a layup off a steal to tie it at 79 with 31 seconds left in the first overtime.Crystal Langhorne had 23 points to lead the Terrapins, who had won 12 straight games. Marissa Coleman added 20 points and 13 rebounds, while Kristi Toliver had 20 points and 14 assists."Someone told me a long time ago going on the road in the ACC was going to be real tough and we saw it first hand today," said assistant coach Daron Park, who coaches the team's road games with Brenda Frese unable to travel due to her pregnancy. "I thought we showed great composure from the opening tip, getting down early and keeping our heads about us and battling back."It was the sixth straight meeting in which both teams were ranked in the top 10. Two years ago, Maryland handed North Carolina its only two losses, the second coming in the Final Four on the Terps' way to the national championship. Last year, the Tar Heels won on the road in the regular season and beat the Terrapins in the ACC tournament semifinals.After Pringle's three-point play tied it at 71 with 46.5 seconds left in regulation, both teams had a chance to avoid overtime. But Breland blocked Coleman's jumper on one end while Pringle's putback of a missed 3 from McCants rattled out as the horn sounded.Maryland had another chance for the win at the end of the first overtime, but Toliver missed a midrange jumper on the final play.