Sophomore guard Latifah Coleman scored all of her 17 points in the second half and third-seeded North Carolina rallied past No. 2 seed Maryland 72-65 in the second quarterfinal of the ACC Women's Basketball Tournament. North Carolina advances to play Duke in Sunday's final (2:00 p.m., ESPN2).
The Terrapins (24-7, 14-4 ACC) took advantage of a 24-18 rebounding edge and built a 16-point lead right before halftime. North Carolina (28-5, 14-4 ACC) shot a horrid 31.3 percent from the field and had zero production from their reserves as they went into halftime.
The Tar Heels emerged from the locker room and promptly reduced what was a 14-point lead to 9, prompting a Brenda Frese timeout. The Heels extended their defense and what once were open looks were now hotly contested possessions. North Carolina chipped away at the precarious Maryland lead until a Coleman three tied the game with 6:03 remaining. After a missed Maryland free throw, Coleman struck again, this time giving the Tar Heels the lead. North Carolina never trailed again, although a Katie Rutan three with 2:46 left tied the game briefly at 60.
"I know everyone's going to ask me where Latifah came from," said Tar Heel head coach Sylvia Hatchell in her post-game news conference. "So, we shipped her in from Mars this morning. We weren't even sure she was going to play today."
In addition to Coleman's contribution, the Tar Heels' Waltiea Rolle was a force inside, resulting in a double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds. In addition, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt poured in 20 points despite suffering from an unknown stomach ailment, which required treatment during the second half.
Maryland was led by double-doubles from Alyssa Thomas (26 points, 12 rebounds) and Tianna Hawkins (14 points, 10 rebounds). The Terps were held to just 29 percent shooting in the second half and were out-rebounded by the Tar Heels 26-14 in the second half.
"Thomas is just an absolutely incredible player; we can see why she was Player of the Year and she is just an unbelievable player. But the whole Maryland team is really, really good so that makes it more of an honor to win because they are such a great team and we battle hard every time we play them."
The 16-point comeback was the second biggest in tournament history, overshadowed only by a 20-point comeback by Duke to upset No. 1 seed Virginia in the 1995 tournament. Asked what she said to her team at halftime, Hatchell was humorously coy:
"Just to go out there and play with a lot of heart, give it all you got," Hatchell said. "...you know that's not true. I mean, that's between me and the team. You know a lot of it was about pride, about playing for each other, about their identity, that type of thing. I was very passionate, you know, before the game, but also at halftime and they had my back, they bought into what we were trying to do and that's what makes this group of kids so special."