The sweat had barely dried from North Carolina senior guard Ivory Latta’s forehead after the Tar Heels’ 21-point blowout over N.C. State last Sunday when her attention immediately turned toward Maryland.
“You can ask me, I’ll tell you,” North Carolina’s All-America point guard said. “It’s going to be a very emotional game. I’m telling you, we’re going to be very hyped and ready for that game. As far as revenge, yes, that’s going to be in there, but we’re going to be ready. I’m ready now. We’re ready now. We’re going to take our time, but it’s going to be a great game. We’re going to go out there and have fun.”
There’s no doubt revenge will be a factor in this game. Last year, the Terps were the only team to beat the powerful Tar Heels, pulling off the feat twice last season. The second loss was perhaps the most stinging for North Carolina — an 81-70 defeat in the women’s Final Four.
“They ended our season last year so you know our players will be up for this,” Tar Heels coach Sylvia Hatchell said.
Tonight at sold-out Comcast Center, the largest crowd to watch an ACC women’s game is expected when the second-ranked Tar Heels (22-0, 6-0) face the No. 3 Terps (21-1, 5-1).
A national television audience will see the nation’s two highest scoring teams square off against each other. The Tar Heels, who enter the game with the nation’s longest winning streak at 22 games, are the most explosive offense in the country, averaging 89.9 points a game.
Meanwhile, the Terps bring a high-octane attack of their own, with all five starters averaging double figures. As a team, Maryland scores 87 points a game.
“I do see it being a fast-paced game,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “Obviously, both teams love to run. I think Carolina’s goal is to average 100 possessions. So, I do see it as two teams that want to be up-tempo with their offenses.”
Last season, Maryland was able to punish North Carolina down low with center Crystal Langhorne and 6-foot-4 forward Laura Harper. In the national semifinal, Langhorne and Harper combined for 47 points and 11 rebounds (six offensive rebounds by Harper). When the Terps beat the Tar Heels during the regular season at Carmichael Auditorium in Chapel Hill, N.C., Langhorne and Harper combined for 36 points and 15 rebounds.
Hatchell, though, thinks the game will come down to more than just post play this time around.
“I don’t think there is one key,” Hatchell said. “They’ve got lots of weapons. Basically, they outscore a lot of people. If you try to take one away, then the other ones take over. They’ve got too many weapons. We’ve just got to play good, solid basketball at every position. I’ll look at the matchups to see who is guarding who. It comes right down to individual defense, each person has got to do their job, and then I think that will get the job done as far as the whole team’s performance.”
The Terps can’t afford a defensive breakdown against the Tar Heels like they had against Duke in their only loss of the season, 81-62 on Jan. 13. North Carolina likes to run behind Latta, who leads North Carolina with 15.5 points a game. The Tar Heels as a team average an NCAA-best 20 assists a game.
Still, Frese thinks that rebounding — especially on the offensive end — will be the ultimate factor.
“They’re averaging about 90 points per game and they can score from every position,” Frese said. “I think the biggest key is going to be from the rebounding end — how many second-chance opportunities both teams are able to get within this game.”
Another key could be Maryland’s homecourt advantage. The Terps currently are riding a 19-game home winning streak — dating to last season — but Hatchell thinks her players are more than adequately prepared.