No. 15 UNC women top No. 10 Terps 72-65 at ACCs

JOEDY McCREARY (AP Sports Writer)

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) -- Latifah Coleman came out of nowhere and shot No. 15 North Carolina back into the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

The previously anonymous backup guard scored 15 of her career-high 17 points in the final 6-plus minutes of the Tar Heels' 72-65 upset of No. 10 Maryland on Saturday in one semifinal.

''We shipped her in from Mars this morning,'' coach Sylvia Hatchell quipped.

Tierra Ruffin-Pratt added 20 points for the 15th-ranked Tar Heels (28-5), the tournament's third seed.

They rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit - the second-biggest comeback in the history of the tournament - by shooting 50 percent in the second half and will face No. 6 Duke in the title game Sunday. It's the eighth time the fierce rivals will meet with a conference championship on the line, with the Blue Devils winning five of those previous seven matchups.

Alyssa Thomas had 26 points, 12 rebounds and finished three assists shy of a second straight triple-double for the second-seeded Terrapins (24-7), who play essentially a six-man rotation and were playing less than 24 hours after needing overtime to beat Wake Forest in the quarterfinals.

''It did take us a while to get our legs underneath us,'' Thomas said.

Still, Katie Rutan's 3-pointer with 2:45 left tied it at 60.

Coleman - a redshirt sophomore who averages 3.4 points in roughly 15 minutes per game - responded by hitting jumpers on the next two possessions.

Ruffin-Pratt followed with four straight free throws to propel the Tar Heels to their league-record 18th berth in the title game but first since 2008.

Walteia Rolle had 19 points and 11 rebounds, and ACC rookie of the year Xylina McDaniel had 12 rebounds for the Tar Heels.

Maryland entered as the nation's No. 2 team in rebounding margin at plus-15 but North Carolina outrebounded the Terps by six to deny them their 14th berth in the finals.

''Carolina came out much more physical, much more aggressive (in the second half), and for us it was a situation where their depth and their numbers were able to wear us out,'' coach Brenda Frese said.

Tianna Hawkins added 14 points and Rutan finished with 12 on four 3-pointers for Maryland.

The defending ACC tournament champions led by 16 in the final minute of the first half and were up 50-43 with less than 10 minutes remaining on Hawkins' jumper.

The Tar Heels countered that with their Coleman-led 16-5 burst that gave them their first lead since the opening 5 minutes.

Coleman hit three big shots during the run, including a tying 3-pointer, a pretty baseline drive that put North Carolina up 54-53 and a driving layup that pushed the lead to 59-55 with under 4 minutes left.

''Coach just told me to be a leader,'' Coleman said. ''I hit that first 3 and got in a rhythm and didn't stop from there.''

These two programs have combined for 19 tournament titles - 10 for Maryland, nine for North Carolina - and they finished the regular season so closely tied for second place in the league standings that the only way to separate them was by a coin flip.

Both were 14-4 in league play, and they split the series with each team winning at home, losing to Duke twice and Florida State once. North Carolina edged the Terps by three points in Chapel Hill, while Maryland rolled the Tar Heels by 26 on its home floor.

For a while it looked like a repeat of that beatdown in College Park. Maryland used a Thomas-led 22-7 run late in the half and went up 38-22 with 6.4 seconds left in the half.

Hatchell, of course, was not at all pleased with how her team played in the opening 20 minutes and let them know with an impassioned halftime speech.

''A lot of it was just about pride, about playing with each other, about their identity, that type of thing,'' Hatchell said. ''And they had my back. They bought into what we were trying to do. That's what makes this group of kids so special.''

The Tar Heels tightened things right back up with a 20-6 run, with McDaniel's steal and layup with just under 13 minutes left pulling them to 44-42 and it stayed tight until North Carolina pulled away down the stretch.


Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter at (at)JoedyAP