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Latta's grit gives UNC edge over Blue Devils

CHAPEL HILL - There's something about North Carolina that gives Duke fits.

Maybe it's the tension of the Tobacco Road rivalry. Maybe it's the Tar Heels' high-pressure defense. Maybe it's just UNC's fiery guard Ivory Latta.

It's probably all three.

Unable to grab the lead for the game's entirety, Duke was mentally and physically out-played by an intense Tar Heel squad in front of a sold-out and raucous crowd. And despite the obvious looks of concentration written across their faces, the Blue Devils could not put it together against UNC Saturday.

"I guess it is something about Carolina that makes us go out there and not play our game," Duke guard Monique Currie said. "They made us rush and make bad decisions, and they killed us on the boards. All of us for the most part think that we are in total control of it-we just didn't take care of it today."

Although Duke played with conviction, it lacked the sheer recklessness embodied by the 5-foot-6 Latta who consistently drove to the basket for the Tar Heels and even recorded a block on the night, stuffing the 5-foot-10 Abby Waner at the end of the first half. Mentally, the junior guard, who scored 18 points and added five assists, played all of her 37 minutes on an adrenaline rush. In the game's final minutes, Latta turned to face the crowd and raised her arms to the ceiling to pump up an already-rocking Carmichael Auditorium.

The rest of UNC team took on Latta's attitude with little trouble, especially on on the boards-the Tar Heels had 16 offensive rebounds to Duke's six in the first half alone.

"We just tried to do the same things we've been doing all year-be aggressive defensively and offensively, taking the ball to the basket, getting it inside, getting good movement in our offense," UNC head coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "Defensively we threw some different things at them. I thought our kids played really hard."

The Blue Devils could have used some of North Carolina's synchronization.

Duke scrambled to narrow the score in the game's final minutes, but the Tar Heels pressured the Blue Devils into rushed play and poor communication.

With less than seven minutes on the clock, Wanisha Smith sent a pass from beyond the right elbow to a wide-open Currie on the left block for a potential easy layup that would have brought the score within nine. But instead, center Alison Bales tipped the ball as it passed her, fumbling the play enough to lead to an easy UNC steal.

This type of miscommunication was typical for the Blue Devils throughout the game-Duke tossed the ball out of bounds without a teammate remotely close to the pass several times.

"Their pressure once again caused us problems," head coach Gail Goestenkors said. "We did not play with a whole lot of poise.... I wouldn't say it's an easy fix, I would say it's a mentality. Once again I feel like we need to become mentally tougher."

To add to their frustration, the Blue Devils could not get their shots to fall-Duke shot only 34.3 percent from the field and 14.3 percent from beyond the arc on the game. The Blue Devils' 65 points were also a season low.

It is possible that Duke's sub-par performance can be attributed to an off day, but it will need to improve upon its ability to play under pressure if it wants to go far into the postseason. The Blue Devils may meet the Tar Heels again in the ACC or NCAA Tournaments-possibly both-and will certainly have to face other top-level teams.

"I don't know, we may see them again, we may not see them again," Goestenkors said. "If nothing else it has help to prepare us for any other team that we may see who is extremely athletic and likes to press."

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