by Mike Potter
GREENSBORO COLISEUM By the time we get to the second Saturday semifinal, only the three teams that have ever won the ACC Women’s Tournament in Greensboro are still around.
So one of the big teams has finally got to go.
The teams split a pair of regular-season meetings, with the Tar Heels prevailing 60-57 on Jan. 3 in Chapel Hill and falling 85-59 on Jan. 24 in College Park.
Both will be headed to the NCAA Tournament regardless.
It doesn’t look that way for quite a while, but this turns out to be the Tar Heels’ day.
Sparked by a career-high 17 points — all in the final nine minutes — from reserve sophomore guard Latifah Coleman, the Tar Heels trail 38-24 at the break before achieving the second biggest comeback in the tournament’s history in a 72-65 win.
The result makes the North Carolina schools 62-21 against out-of-state opposition in ACC Women’s Tournament games here.
UNC trails 38-24 at the break, and 44-34 with 15:43 left following a layup by the Terps’ Alicia DeVaughn. But the Tar Heels trim the lead to 50-45 on Rolle’s layup at 9:27 before Coleman goes to work.
She hits two free throws at 8:59 to make it to 50-47, and then ties the game at 52-52 on a 3-pointer with 6:03 showing. She adds a layup to 5:23 to put the Tar Heels ahead for the first time in over 30 minutes at 54-53, and later hits a jumper with 2:27 left to give UNC the lead for good at 62-60.
Tierra Ruffin-Pratt hits 20 points for 17th-ranked UNC despite a nasty upset stomach, while Waltiea Rolle adds 19 points and 11 rebounds for her sixth double-double of the season. Xylina McDaniel recovers 12 rebounds to go with her three points.
Alyssa Thomas leads Maryland with 26 points and 12 rebounds, while Tianna Hawkins adds 14 points and 10 rebounds and Katie Rutan 12 points.
UNC shoots 39.7 percent to the Terps’ 35.5, but outshoots them 50 percent to 29 in the second half. UNC wins the rebound battle 44-38, the first time all season Maryland has been outrebounded. Each team commits 14 turnovers.
They said it …
UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell: “I know everyone is going to ask me where Latifah came from, so ‘We shipped her in from Mars this morning. She hardly played even yesterday because last year she had knee surgery in her ACL and she’s still having problems. We weren’t even sure she was going to play today.”
Maryland coach Brenda Frese: “(Coleman) caught on fire from the first ‘three’ and really gained confidence from there. We tried to switch her up. We put Katie Rutan, our best defender, on her. We went to (Thomas) with size, and she got really confident. That’s obviously a luxury you have when you have a bench like Carolina does, to figure out which player has the hot hand.”
Coleman: “When (Ruffin-Pratt) left the game (with the bad stomach) Coach just told me to be a leader. I hit the first three and got in a rhythm and didn’t stop from there.”
Ruffin-Pratt: “(Coleman) isn’t with the starting group in practice most of the time, and I know it gets hard for her to be in the other group. She just takes over that group and leads well. She plays defense great, and knocks down those shots she was hitting tonight. She knocks those down all the time in practice. We see it often.”
What does it all mean?
That the Tar Heels have found a clutch player they didn’t really know they had, and that the Terps will take a chip on their collective shoulder into NCAA play.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Coleman’s 3-pointer to tie the score at 52-52.
UNC: Won 2.
Maryland: Lost 1.
UNC leads 38-36.
UNC vs. Duke, Sunday, 2 p.m.
Maryland in NCAA Tournament