1:00 PM ET, March 8, 2008
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) -- Rashanda McCants felt the pain in her left ankle, but there was no way the junior wasn't going back into the game. It was a big reason why second-ranked North Carolina is still unbeaten against Atlantic Coast Conference teams this season.McCants had 23 points and 10 rebounds despite spraining her ankle in the first half Saturday to help the Tar Heels beat Virginia 80-65 in the semifinals of the ACC tournament, sending them to the championship game for the seventh straight season.Erlana Larkins had 14 points and 15 rebounds for the top-seeded Tar Heels (29-2), who have won 12 straight games and 20 of 21. The three-time defending champions also won their 11th straight league tournament game dating to the 2005 season, pulling away in the final minutes to set up a matchup with the Maryland-Duke semifinal winner.It all started with McCants, a 6-foot-1 forward who has roamed the court all season for a team that became the first in school history to go unbeaten in ACC regular-season play. The younger sister of former North Carolina star and NBA player Rashad McCants offset a slow start from all-conference teammates Larkins and LaToya Pringle up front and helped the Tar Heels take control late in the first half despite rolling her ankle in traffic and being helped from the court about 7 minutes in.She returned 6 minutes later, then scored 11 of her 19 points that helped the Tar Heels to a 40-31 halftime lead.The Tar Heels eventually used a 9-0 run to get some breathing room, then pushed the margin to as many as 22 points late against the fourth-seeded Cavaliers (23-9), who have not beaten the Tar Heels in five years and fell to 2-12 against North Carolina in the ACC tournament."I don't know whether that gets you more fired up or competitive or whatever. ... That might have been the way it was today," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said of McCants' injury. "Rashanda's a warrior. She's tough. She came back out and did what we need her to do."After McCants went to the bench with the injury, medical staff taped up the ankle and then had her test it in a hallway away from the bench. When she returned, she quickly picked up where she left off, rebounding her own missed 3-pointer for a score less than 2 minutes later before hitting a 3 on the following possession."No thoughts of not coming back," McCants said. "It hurt real bad, but the trainers just taped it up real tight and I told them, 'Give me some medicine, some Tylenol or something,' and I went back out there and played."She went 7-for-10 in the first half and finished 9-for-16 for the game to go with three assists and two steals in 29 minutes. In the second half, McCants even stepped in to draw two charges in three possessions despite picking up her third foul early after the break.It was her second straight strong performance in the tournament; she had 12 points, six rebounds, seven assists, four steals and two blocks in Friday's quarterfinal win over Clemson."She's the X-factor for them," Virginia coach Debbie Ryan said. "Every time we thought we had a ball, she'd come from nowhere and take it away from us."Monica Wright had a career-high 31 points for the Cavaliers, who committed 26 turnovers and were outfought on the boards. North Carolina finished with a 46-40 advantage on the glass, including 17 second-chance points on 22 offensive rebounds.Larkins and Pringle combined to shoot just 2-for-12 inside against Virginia's physical defense in the first half. But Pringle finished with 15 points, eight rebounds, five blocks and three steals, while Jessica Breland had 15 points off the bench.North Carolina played without freshman guard Rebecca Gray, who suffered a concussion while trying to take a charge during the Tar Heels' quarterfinal win over Clemson on Friday.
Team Stat Comparison
|FG Made-Attempted||26-63 (.413)||29-68 (.426)|
|3P Made-Attempted||3-13 (.231)||1-4 (.250)|
|FT Made-Attempted||10-18 (.556)||21-35 (.600)|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||25 (0/0)||15 (0/0)|