- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2007

North Carolina guard Ivory Latta’s facial expressions during a game can often be more entertaining than the actual play on the floor — from a bug-eyed look while defending to an icy stare at the basket before taking a shot.

There was nothing amusing to No. 3 Maryland about Latta’s playful head-bobbing jaunt down the sideline after yet another 3-pointer early in the second half last night or her two small jumps as she approached the sideline at the end of the No. 2 Tar Heels’ 84-71 victory at Comcast Center.

Latta scored a season-high 32 points and shot 6-for-10 from the 3-point line as North Carolina (23-0, 7-0 ACC) upended the Terps (21-2, 5-2) in the teams’ first meeting since Maryland’s victory in last year’s national semifinals.

“It was because my teammates were finding me, especially Erlana [Larkins],” Latta said. “Whenever she felt the double, I just knew I could go spot up on the outside and I knew she would find me. I knew I was confident I would hit the shot. I was definitely in a groove.”

Latta, the ACC’s Player of the Year last season, made last night a cornerstone for her worthiness for a similar honor this year. She sizzled during North Carolina’s run early in the second half, then delivered a vital basket in the closing minutes to help fend off Maryland’s furious rally.

The 5-foot-6 sparkplug was part of both ends of the Tar Heels’ 22-8 midgame surge that extended their lead to 20 points. Seconds after Maryland coach Brenda Frese was tagged with a technical foul for berating official Lawson Newton, Latta made a pair of free throws to make it 35-27 and stem a Terps run just before halftime.

Though somewhat contained from the perimeter in the first half, Latta frequently fired away as North Carolina extended its lead early in the second half.

It was after her third 3-pointer of the half that she bounced wildly down the far side, and moments later she added another long jumper — and a gleeful sideline saunter — to make it 55-35.

“She looked pretty darn good tonight,” Frese said. “That’s a senior stepping up and playing with a lot of leadership and I’m sure wanting to seek a little revenge.”

Maryland gradually worked its way back into the game, bringing the crowd with it as the deficit narrowed over a 12-minute stretch. Eventually, the Terps closed within 67-66 before Larkins bumped it back to a three-point lead with a layup.

Two possessions later, Latta drove the lane for another layup and a 71-66 edge. It was a play set up by North Carolina’s ability to consistently funnel shots inside to Larkins, who finished with 20 points.

Latta struggled with injuries and shooting in last year’s semifinal, but was unhindered by either last night before an ACC-record 17,950 for a women’s game. She matched her career-high for 3-pointers and ensured the Tar Heels dealt Maryland its first home loss in more than a year.

“We let down in the second half when they made that run,” Latta said. “But nothing personal at all. We just came out with a big win.”

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