March 26, 2006
CLEVELAND (AP) - North Carolina's Ivory Latta made the winning shot and then was carried from the floor - by the team's trainers.
The tough and tiny point guard hit a driving layup with 2.8 seconds left before her leg cramped up as the top-seeded Tar Heels advanced in the NCAA tournament with a 70-68 win Sunday over Purdue in the semifinals of the Cleveland Regional.
After banking in the go-ahead basket to snap a 68-68 tie, Latta fell to the floor in pain and watched as Purdue's Katie Gearlds missed a half-court heave as time expired. The Tar Heels (32-1) rushed to Latta, who by then was grabbing her left knee and screaming in agony.
As her teammates flocked around her, the arena went from wild cheers to stunned silence.
Latta laid on the floor for several minutes before she was picked up by Carolina's medical staff and taken to the locker room while the other Tar Heels remained on the floor to hear their alma mater.
North Carolina will play second-seeded Tennessee in the regional final on Tuesday night with the winner getting a spot in the Final Four in Boston.
A school spokesman said Latta had a cramp in her left calf and was not expected to miss the Tar Heels' matchup with the second-seeded Lady Vols, who beat Rutgers 76-69 in the other semifinal.
If not for her dramatic basket, North Carolina would be on its way home.
The Boilermakers (26-7) pushed the tournament's top seed to the brink of elimination before Latta bailed the Tar Heels out.
Aya Traore's 15-foot jumper with 29.6 seconds to go tied it at 68 before North Carolina called a timeout. On the final possession, Latta let some time run off the clock before the junior blasted toward the basket and finished the Boilermakers off.
Erlana Larkins scored 23 points and Latta added 19, eight assists and four steals for the Tar Heels.
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton had 21 and Traore 17 for the Boilermakers, who took a 63-62 lead with 3:14 remaining on a jumper by Erin Lawless. But Larkins bulled her way down low for two baskets and a layup by La'Tangela Atkinson gave North Carolina a 68-64 lead with 1:35 left.
But Purdue refused to cave and tied it again before Latta, the Tar Heels' 5-foot-6 bundle of energy ended it with a basket Carolina fans may never forget.
After struggling for 30 minutes with one of the Big Ten's best squads, North Carolina finally began to separate from Purdue and opened a 53-46 lead with 11:07 left on three free throws by Latta.
However, with its fans chanting "Boiler up", Purdue reeled off seven straight points to tie it.
The fun-loving Latta, the ACC's player of the year, got off the North Carolina charter bus laughing with her teammates as she entered the arena, and she bounced around the floor during pregame warmups.
"Yeah, baby," she screamed before huddling the Tar Heels at mid-court. "Let's get it."
She wasn't so bubbly as the Tar Heels, perhaps surprised that Purdue wanted to run with them, jumped out to a 16-8 lead.
But North Carolina, which can cause as many headaches without the ball, upped its defensive pressure and turned things around quickly with a suffocating trap.
Latta threaded a pass across the lane to Atkinson for a layup to put the Tar Heels up by three, and Larkins scored underneath - on Latta's seventh assist - with 2 seconds left to give North Carolina a 36-32 halftime lead.