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February 25, 2006Virginia Tech and Boston College learned recently what several opponents of the North Carolina women's team now know. Point guard Ivory Latta gets the Tar Heels going.
Latta poured in 26 points to go with five assists and no turnovers at No. 3 ranked UNC beat Virginia Tech, 84-75, in Blacksburg last Friday. Then Latta had 23 points and a career-high nine steals to lead the Tar Heels past No. 17 Boston College 69-62 on Monday night
"Ivory has great style," coach Sylvia Hatchell had said. "She is a great kid and she wants to excite the crowd. She makes us go."
The 5-foot-6 junior has been making Carolina go to places the program has never this season. The Heels reached a No. 1 ranking during the season for the first time before a loss to Maryland, and have a record of 24-1 overall and 11-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Today at 2 p.m. the No. 1 Tar Heels (25-1, 12-1 ACC) face Duke (25-1, 12-1 ACC) in sold-out Carmichael Auditorium. The game will be televised live nationally by Fox Sports Net.
When the Heels voted earlier this year about the toughest player on the squad to guard, Latta won in a runaway vote. With two points today Latta will become the 15th player in school history to reach teh 1,500-points mark.
Latta seems perfect for the up-and-down style that Hatchell wants for her Heels. She brings excitement on and off the court.
"I get letter after letter and email from people who write what it does to lift their spirits," Hatchell said. "She brings excitement and joy to people's lives. You can't help but be excited around her. Other players love her. Sometimes she gets on them, but they respect her. She is out there giving her all at all the times. Ivory does that. She is first class in everything she does."
Latta, who leads the team in scoring with 18.2 points per game and has 5.2 asssist a game to lead the squad, also has managed to stay very, very focused on the team's accomplishments.
"We're doing great things and I can't ask for a better season," Latta said. "We are getting a lot of things done. Our chemistry is amazing on and off the court. That is a reason we are so good. That brings us together and our coaches get us prepared. We go out and just play hard."
Latta has been featured in Sports Illustrated and ESPN.com and it comes as surprise for the player who reached 1,000 career points as a sophomore. She is happy for the honors and No. 1 ranking that came earlier, but she knows bigger things are in front of the Tar Heels.
"It is really cool, but what happens in March is what matters," she said.
Latta said the serious comment before breaking out another part of her personality that has become as familiar as her driving to the basket - a big smile.
Latta seems to always be smiling and trying to make others around her break out into a big grin. She says her personality and passion come from her family. The McConnells (S.C.) native grew up the youngest of seven siblings and still calls her parents before every game. When she talks about them you realize what makes her go.
"My family, they are so supportive," Latta said. "It doesn't matter if it is basketball or school work, they pull for me to do my best. The whole area where I'm from in South Carolina is like that. I was talking to my mom and she said we have four buses of people coming up from South Carolina for the Duke game and I felt so good. It shows how much they love me and I love them right back."
Her family has a great athletic background. Her brother Suron played football at Charleston Southern and a cousin, Tiffani Johnson played basketball at Tennessee and in the WNBA. Latta's father ran a semi-pro baseball team where she developed a passion for another sport.
"I love baseball," she said smiling of course. "The Braves are the best. Yankees are OK, but the Braves are the best. When I was little, I was always a bat girl and hung around a lot with my father's team. I thought I was going to be the first female professional baseball player, but then along came basketball."
Her parents, Charles and Chenna Latta, once again were supportive of her dreams.
"My dad built a full court in our backyard and I thank him for that," she said in the UNC women's media guide. "He didn't have to do that, but I begged him ever since I was a little kid. They try to go as many places as they can to see as many games as they can."
Latta knows the final games of the 2005-06 season will be very important for Carolina. And she knows what type of effort it will take to do well in them.
"It will take intensity every game," Latta said. "Forty minutes playing hard. These games are very crucial to decide if you get that No. 1 seed or not. We know everyone is gunning for us. We've got to stay focused and do what we can do and gun for them."
Latta will keep playing just like she has during her entire Carolina career - hard. She enjoys the Carmichael crowds, especially the student section.
"I love our crowd," Latta said. "Our student section gives me hype and I give them hype. The crowd comes to see an exciting game, so I'm going to bring it."