Forgotten Tar Heels get last laugh on rest of ACC

Associated Press • Mar 30, 2007 at 12:03 PM

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - North Carolina felt like the forgotten team in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

After all, the spotlight was always on somebody else, whether it was Duke winning 30 straight games, Maryland defending its national title or N.C. State making an inspirational late-season surge for coach Kay Yow.

"People kind of forgot about us in the regular season," forward LaToya Pringle said Thursday.

Now Pringle and her teammates get the last laugh: They're the only ACC team in the Final Four.

"The last ACC team? Yeah, that's cool," guard Ivory Latta said. "But it's a business trip. We've got to go up there and get it done."

North Carolina (34-3) won the Dallas Regional as its top seed to earn a rematch with Dayton Regional champion Tennessee (32-3) in one semifinal Sunday in Cleveland.

The Tar Heels have made it this far for the second straight year, but this time the they don't expect to get blinded by the bright lights of the sport's grandest stage.

"I think our players will be a little more grounded when we get there," coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "Last year, I think they were just overwhelmed. ... I think they will not be as overwhelmed with the fanfare and the hoop-de-la and that type of thing. I'm hoping that's the way it will be."

The Tar Heels beat Tennessee in the Cleveland Regional final to earn the second Final Four trip in school history, and they had plenty of ACC company there, with the Terrapins and Blue Devils joining them in Boston.

Maryland beat North Carolina in the semifinals on the way to its first national title, leaving Latta with a season-long empty feeling.

"We've got some unfinished business to take care of whenever we go to Cleveland, definitely," Latta said. "Going to the Final Four is very exciting, but you're also going up there to get a job done, and that's what we're going to try to do."

North Carolina began the season with 24 straight wins - a string that included a 70-57 victory over the Lady Vols in December - and was ranked No. 2. But the Tar Heels lost to Duke, then later followed a surprising loss at North Carolina State with another loss to the Blue Devils on Feb. 25.

They haven't been beaten since, winning three straight in the ACC tournament, then beating all four of their NCAA tournament opponents by at least nine points each.

Now the never-shy Latta gets her chance to conclude her college career in the spotlight. The All-America selection and one-time ACC player of the year also known for her show-stopping Latta-tude knows exactly how she wants to be remembered.

"I want to be known as a great person, one of the best point guards that ever came through the history of Carolina," Latta said, "and to be honest, the girl with the big smile."

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