Maryland 81, North Carolina 70

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BOSTON (AP)—Maryland took it slow, took it inside, and took all the fun out of the Tar Heels.

The Terrapins—the only team to beat No. 1 North Carolina this season— one-upped their own upset Sunday night, beating the Tar Heels 81-70 in the NCAA women’s national semifinal. Now Maryland will play for the first women’s basketball title in school history.

And the Terps did it their way: bumping feisty North Carolina point guard Ivory Latta, outmuscling the energetic, uptempo Tar Heels and forcing a halfcourt game that wiped the smiles right off their faces.

In just four years under coach Brenda Frese, Maryland (33-4) has risen to stand among the nation’s elite. The 33 wins is the most for any Maryland basketball team—men or women.

“They have the heart of a lion,” Frese said. “They believe in each other … I’m really proud of them. All season long this team has played with a chip on their shoulder. They’ve got a lot of believers tonight after the performance they put on.”

The Terps dominated inside as they have all season. Maryland, which led the nation with an average rebounding margin of more than 12, beat North Carolina on the glass 41-31. The young post players who made that happen—sophomores Crystal Langhorne and Laura Harper—also asserted their strong scoring presence.

Harper had a career-high 24 points and Langhorne scored 23 for the Terps, who had beaten ACC rival North Carolina 98-95 in overtime in the regular season. Carolina avenged that with a 91-80 in the ACC tournament, but the stakes were much higher in this rubber match.

The Terps will play Duke in the title game Tuesday night. Duke beat LSU Duke 64-45 in the second semifinal.

Maryland ran its halfcourt came to near perfection, getting the ball into Langhorne or Harper for basket after basket.

“That’s what was working,” Frese said. “It was, ‘Who could stop who?’ We wanted to turn them into a jump-shooting team.”

Erlana Larkins led the Tar Heels with 28 points and 10 rebounds. Latta was banged up, knocked down and carried off at one point after tweaking her knee while coming down with a pass on the baseline.

She lay in obvious pain for several minutes and received a standing ovation as she was taken off the floor, then trotted back two minutes later. But she never quite got on track after that, finishing with 14 points, four assists and made just one of 10 3-pointers.

“It affected me a lot and I tried not to think about it,” Latta said. “I tried to do what I could to help the team and not let it affect me. Erlana told me `We need you.”’

And indeed they did—but it still wasn’t enough.

“I didn’t feel like we were in a rhythm after Ivory got hurt,” Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “She’s our spark. We didn’t seem to have any energy.”

Maryland was making its first Final Four appearance since 1989 but had the swagger of a team that’s been here before. The Terps led by just two at the half, then began to methodically add to the lead.

Kristi Tolliver’s 3-pointer with 8 minutes left gave the Terrapins their largest lead at 63-52. As the ball dropped through, Tolliver nodded toward the Maryland fan section and coolly gestured “bring it on.”

For a while, it did seem Maryland was ready to run away with it. But Latta and the Heels had one more run left: North Carolina chipped away with a 11-4 run and Latta’s two free throws with 1:06 left got the Heels within 3 at 73-70.

But there was no panic in these Terps. Shay Doron played cat-and-mouse with Latta as she brought the ball upcourt, then dished to a wide-open Coleman for a layup. The Heels would get no closer.

Doron said the game plan was to keep Latta “in front us all the time, make sure we contested every one of her shots and try to keep the ball out of her hand.”

Latta, the junior guard who finished second in The Associated Press player of the year balloting, fouled out with .7 seconds remaining when she wrestled Coleman to the ground. She walked off to an ovation and a hug from coach Sylvia Hatchell and watched quietly as the Terps celebrated on the sidelines.

“From the beginning I just wanted to play confident and have fun out there. That’s what I wanted to do, just have fun,” Harper said.

Most of the first half was marked by missed opportunities for the Tar Heels. Carolina hit just one of its first six free throw attempts and failed to capitalize on early turnovers.

Things were even worse from 3-point range, where the Tar Heels one of 11 attempts.

The Terps, meanwhile, went inside early and often to Langhorne and the big sophomore did not disappoint. She was 7-of-8 from the floor, mostly from inside the paint, and had 16 points in the first half to give the Terps a 36-34 lead at the break.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
M. Coleman M. Coleman
3-5,  12 Pts
14 Rebs, 7 Assists
 North Carolina
E. Larkins E. Larkins
9-17,  28 Pts
10 Rebs, 5 Assists

Team Stat Leaders