CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) -- Erlana Larkins had ice packs strapped to her knees and shins after the game. For most of the night, though, she was the one dishing out the pain.
Larkins played with heavy padding on the left hand she broke in December and appeared to tweak an ankle while putting up 21 points and 18 rebounds and getting a key late steal in No. 3 North Carolina's 90-82 victory against Virginia on Friday night.
"It's the love," Larkins said of brushing off the aches and pains. "I can't explain it other than that. I just love playing basketball. I just come in expecting a battle. I didn't expect to get beat down like this tonight, but hey, you just have to pick yourself up and keep going."
That she did was a big reason North Carolina held on.
The Cavaliers closed to within two on Monica Wright's layup with 1:58 to play and had a chance to tie it or go ahead after Abby Robertson drew a charge on Larkins.
But Larkins stepped in front of Lyndra Littles' pass for her third steal of the night. Seconds later, LaToya Pringle's short jumper doubled the Tar Heels' advantage.
Pringle led all scorers with 28 points and added 10 rebounds as North Carolina (23-3, 10-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) won its 11th in a row in the series.
"She attracts so much attention from every team we play, so when they go to double, I think me and her establish where I need to be to get an easy layup," Pringle said. "We just complement each other well and we just make the game easier for each other."
The Cavaliers (18-7, 6-3) had been off to their best league start since the 2004-05 season, also the last time they reached the NCAA Tournament. Hoping for a big victory to boost their chances of returning to the field this year, they led until Rashanda McCants made consecutive baskets early in the second half to put UNC ahead 43-41.
Virginia closed to within four with 21 seconds to play on Zoll's three-point play, but Pringle was 5-for-6 from the foul line in the final 26 seconds to secure the win.
"Larkins is an incredible player, [but] it was really Pringle tonight that killed us," Virginia coach Debbie Ryan said. "She just killed us. Every time she caught the ball, she was scoring. We just didn't do anything to stop her."
Lyndra Littles led Virginia with 22 points, Aisha Mohammed had 16 and nine rebounds and Monica Wright scored 16. Mohammed and Wright both fouled out. Sharnee Zoll had six assists, leaving her 16 shy of tying Dawn Staley's school career record.
Once the Tar Heels went ahead, Virginia had to fight to stay close.
North Carolina's lead grew to 64-58 on Italee Lucas' off-the-dribble 3-pointer with 11:45 to play, but Mohammed, limited to just 10 second-half minutes by foul trouble, cut the lead to 71-68 on an inside basket with 5:37 to go.
The Tar Heels pushed their lead back to 81-74 with 2:48 to play before a 5-0 run, capped by Wright's basket, pulled the Cavaliers within two.
"We're right there," Ryan said, sounding an all-too-familiar refrain this season. "We're sitting right there with one possession. ... It's not like we were getting behind by 25 and getting it back to six and thinking we did something."
Virginia, which led by as many as 11 in the first half, has lost just four times in its last 16 games: to then-No. 1 Connecticut on Dec. 5 and twice to Maryland (No. 5 ESPN/USA Today, No. 4 AP).