NORFOLK, Va. (AP) -- North Carolina got the stiff challenge it expected from Georgia, a team with just as much tradition and expectations of adding to its history.
The second-ranked Tar Heels also showed why they are a cut above Tuesday night as Rashanda McCants scored 23 points and North Carolina beat the Bulldogs 80-66 to advance to the New Orleans Regional, and a meeting with Louisville on Saturday.Erlana Larkins added 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Tar Heels (32-2), who used a 20-0 run spanning the halves to open a 13-point lead that climbed as high 16. It was North Carolina's 15th consecutive victory and first in six tries against the Bulldogs.It was also, coach Sylvia Hatchell said, a valuable experience as the Tar Heels work to reach their third straight Final Four and get beyond the national semifinals."At the end of the game, we were sitting over there saying this was probably good for us," Hatchell said of getting tested. "I just don't want it to be too good."Tasha Humphrey, a four-time all-Southeastern Conference first-teamer, led Georgia with 20 points and 10 rebounds in her last college game. Megan Darrah added 14."To end like this, it's tough," said Darrah, the only other senior.Georgia (23-10) led 33-26 before allowing a 10-0 run to end the first half and another to start the second. The Bulldogs, seeded eighth, were denied their sixth consecutive trip to the regional round by their third loss in the last nine games."We probably victimized ourselves with turnovers that led to easy baskets," he said. "That's how we finished the first half and that's how we started the second half, and unfortunately, that was our undoing."And it played right into North Carolina's hands."It's something we talked about in the locker room. Our objective was to have them call a timeout in the first few minutes of the second half, and we did a good job of that," Larkins said.The Bulldogs tried making a statement late in the first half when Humphrey, Darrah, Ashley Houts and Angela Puleo hit 3-pointers on consecutive possessions in the big run, but even while finishing with nine 3s, the Bulldogs couldn't sustain their excellence."We knew in the second half that those same shots wouldn't be falling," Larkins said. "A lot of players played a lot of minutes, and when the legs start to go, the shot starts to go also."North Carolina held them scoreless over the final 4 minutes of the half, and then for almost the first 3 after halftime, a blitz that left them with a 46-33 lead.It grew to 56-40, and while the Bulldogs closed within seven, they were too sloppy and foul-plagued to get closer. They finished with 24 turnovers and 23 field goals and had two players foul out and three others who played with four fouls.