When Ivory Latta left York Comprehensive High School in York, S.C., for North Carolina three years ago, she was the leading scorer in South Carolina history-man or woman. It would not be the last time she would force comparisons to the opposite sex.
After Latta scored 21 points in a win over Connecticut Dec. 5, Huskies head coach Geno Auriemma compared her to Allen Iverson. Then, following a win over Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium Jan. 29, Latta audaciously claimed she played better than her idol, Iverson.
But that boldness is not unusual for the junior point guard who plays with an intensity-even a swagger-that is almost unheard of in the women's game. She dives into stands, screams for the ball, and home or away, plays to the crowd.
"I think she's tough," Duke senior Monique Currie said. "She plays with a lot of heart. She gets after it and she's really intense."
But it is more than just her demeanor that marks similarities between Latta and Iverson. Like the Philadelphia 76ers star, her oversized personality and plethora of weapons help compensate for an undersized frame-she's listed at just 5-foot-6.
"She knows her size and what she has to do to score," Duke freshman guard Abby Waner said. "She's very quick and she has very many different components to her game. She'll pull up, she'll hit the three, or she'll dish. She's very good at driving, drawing and dishing."
The well-rounded star currently sits first in the conference in free-throw percentage, second in scoring and three-pointers made, and fourth in both steals and assists.
Latta was unanimously selected to the First Team All-ACC Monday and is a finalist for the Wooden Award, given to the nation's best men's and women's college basketball players.
Her success, along with her confident attitude-"Latta-tude" as her fans like to call it-has made Latta a rather contentious player. In a game at N.C. State Jan. 15, the crowd booed each time she touched the ball.
"It's tough to play against," Goestenkors said. "But she has a certain flair for the game."
Even in the face of criticism, Latta continues to play with her recognizable smile, and for good reason-she has led her team to the top ranking in the nation while compiling her impressive list of personal stats.
In addition to everything else, the UNC stand-out has guided her team to five straight victories over archrival Duke. This year, the Tar Heels account for both of the Blue Devils' losses.
"Ivory is the heart and soul of that team," Goestenkors said. "She makes their team go, obviously."
Latta, who is always looking to push the tempo, embodies the spirit of a Tar Heel team that thrives on fast play and athleticism. The junior has played some of her best games against top competition, averaging 20 points per game when facing ranked opponents.
"I thought we did a a really good job on her and she still scored 18 points," Goestenkors said of their Feb. 25 game. "She finds a way to help her team, whether its hitting the three or penetrating and dishing."
Latta has been particularly bothersome for the Blue Devils, especially with the combination of her flamboyance and her team's success. Blue Devil players, however, have been reluctant to comment on their feelings toward the Tar Heel point guard's antics.
"Definitely I have a lot of respect for her game," Duke junior Lindsey Harding said.
When asked about Latta's showmanship, Waner laughed off the question and diplomatically replied, "Ivory's a very good point guard."
But even if Duke players are hesitant to discuss their notorious rival, at least one member of the team finds good in what Latta brings to the court.
"I think she adds a great dimension to the women's game," Goestenkors said. "She puts on a great show."
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