UNC's Bell, Larkins headline early awards

North Carolina senior Nikita Bell was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year on Wednesday as the leauge unveiled its all-conference defensive and freshman teams.

The ACC Rookie of the Year will be released Thursday, followed by ACC Coach of the Year (Friday) and ACC Player of the Year (Saturday).

Bell, a forward/guard from Columbus, Ga., is the inaugural winner of the defensive award. She is joined on the five-member All-Defensive team -- selected by a vote of the league's 11 coaches -- by Duke's Alison Bales, Virginia's LaTonya Blue, Florida State's Alicia Gladden and NC State's Ashley Key.

Bell leads UNC in steals for the third year in a row and continues to climb the UNC and ACC career charts. She currently ranks fourth in school history and 12th in conference history with 300 career steals. Against conference opponents, she has averaged nearly four steals per game, the top average in the ACC.

Bell is averaging 10.0 points and 5.2 rebounds per game in addition to her 3.1 steals. In ACC games only, she averages 11.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.8 steals. Bell was named to the ACC All-Defensive team in 2003, when she also was named to the All-ACC second team.

Also recognized Wednesday was Tar Heel freshman Erlana Larkins, who was a unanimous pick for the ACC All-Freshman team, which was voted on by the 74 members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Writers Association (ASCWA).

Maryland's Crystal Langhorne also was a unanimous pick. Duke's Wanisha Smith (65 votes), Georgia Tech's Chioma Nnamaka (52) and NC State's Khadijah Whittington (35) helped round out the all-freshman squad.

Larkins's honor was the second in as many days for the forward from Riviera Beach, Fla., who was announced Tuesday as a second-team All-ACC pick. Larkins ranks second on UNC in scoring and rebounding this season, averaging 15.3 points and 6.9 boards per game. She leads the conference and ranks fourth in the nation with a field goal percentage of .633.

A freshman from Upper Marlboro, Md., Smith has led Blue Devils at the point guard position the entire year. On the season, she is averaging 11.3 points, 4.6 assists, 2.7 rebounds, 1.6 steals and is hitting 43.8 percent from the field. The 5-11 guard has registered 132 assists on the season, which is a new Duke single season freshman record, breaking Lindsey Harding's mark of 124 back in 2002-03.

For the sixth straight year, a member of the Duke squad has been named to the All-ACC Defensive team as Bales earned the honor for the first time in her career. A sophomore from Dayton, Ohio, Bales is one of the most improved players in the ACC this season, averaging a league-best 3.9 blocks, 7.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.7 assists. Her 3.9 blocks also ranks fifth in the nation.

On the season, Bales has registered 112 blocks to break the Duke single-season record and she is two away from tying the ACC single-season record of 114 held by Dawn Royster of North Carolina. In only two years, Bales has blocked 141 shots and already ranks 21st on the ACC career charts. In the ACC stats, Bales also ranks ninth in rebounding.