Tar Heels win eighth straight

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -- One month after winning a tough road game at North Carolina State, North Carolina again found itself in a tight contest with the Wolfpack. And just as before, the Tar Heels made the big plays when they needed them. Ivory Latta hit two free throws with 19.2 seconds left in overtime Sunday, lifting North Carolina (No. 5 ESPN/USA Today, No. 8 AP) past NC State (No. 24 ESPN/USA Today, No. 21 AP) 75-72 for its eighth straight win. Latta shook off a slow start to finish with 14 points for the Tar Heels (22-3, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference). Nikita Bell added 11 points and made several key plays late, including a putback with 1.9 seconds left to force overtime and a free throw after a steal in the final seconds of the extra period. Camille Little led the Tar Heels with 17 points. In a physical game that mirrored their 77-75 win in Raleigh, the Tar Heels had to overcome a second-half deficit against a team that never stopped fighting. NC State (19-6, 8-4) took a 53-47 rebounding edge against one of the league's top rebounding teams, while the Tar Heels shot just 38 percent and had to work for everything. Yet, as in last month's game, the Tar Heels held on when Ashley Key failed to tie it as the horn sounded. "This is fun, we love this," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "They love it as players, I love it as a coach. This is the way the NCAAs are going to be." Key scored 21 points to lead the Wolfpack, who hung around despite being short-handed for much of the second half. Starter Billie McDowell left the game with a sprained left knee early in the second half, while Marquetta Dickens battled foul trouble before picking up her fifth with about eight minutes left in regulation. Despite that gutty effort, the Wolfpack couldn't protect a two-point lead in the final seconds of regulation. "When you give everything and you lose, it hurts," NC State coach Kay Yow said. "But after this moment passes, I think they should hold their heads high because I think this was a game that either team could have won." With the teams tied, Latta -- who missed her first nine shots before hitting two key 3-pointers in a 10-0 second-half run -- drove to the basket and was fouled by Khadijah Whittington. She calmly sank both free throws for the 74-72 lead. On the ensuing possession, Nikita Bell jumped in front of a pass by Kendra Bell and stole the ball near midcourt. She was fouled on the layup attempt, hitting a free throw with eight seconds left for the 75-72 lead. The Wolfpack had a final chance to tie it, but Key missed a 3-pointer just before time expired. In last month's game, the Tar Heels rallied from an 11-point second-half deficit and earned the win when Key couldn't get the final shot off in time. Latta's free throws capped an up-and-down day for the 5-foot-6 sophomore. She shot just 3-for-15 in 45 minutes -- including 0-for-6 in the first half -- but never stopped attacking. With the Wolfpack leading 49-42, Latta finally drained a 3-pointer with 12:35 to play. That started a 10-point spurt by the Tar Heels, with Latta assisting on two baskets and closing the run with another 3 for a 52-49 lead. "The only thing I can do is keep shooting," Latta said. "If I miss nine or 10, that's no reason for me to stop shooting because I know I'm a good shooter." Still, the Wolfpack had a chance to win it at the end of regulation. Tiffany Stansbury -- who had 13 points and 15 rebounds -- scored the Wolfpack's last three field goals, including a turnaround shot for a 65-63 lead with 15.9 seconds left. But Nikita Bell -- who also hit a shot to tie the game at 63 with 36.6 seconds left -- grabbed a miss from Leah Metcalf and scored underneath to send the game into overtime tied at 65. "Every possession counts, so you want to go in there and make sure you at least attempt to get the ball,'' Bell said. ``It just fell in my hands and I just put it back up." Ultimately, the Wolfpack's failure to protect that lead proved to be their undoing. Little scored the first basket of overtime just seven seconds in, and the Wolfpack never led in the extra period.