North Carolina shoots 53 percent in easy ACC tourney win

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) -- Erlana Larkins and LaToya Pringle have been a part of three Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championships and two Final Fours in their careers at North Carolina.

The seniors sound eager to add another title to that resume in their final postseason run.

Larkins scored 25 points and Pringle added 16 to help the second-ranked Tar Heels beat Clemson 97-77 Friday in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament, giving North Carolina an easy start to its title defense while keeping it unbeaten against league teams this year.

Rashanda McCants had 12 points for the Tar Heels (28-2), the tournament's top seed who has won 11 straight games and 19 of 20 overall. North Carolina, the three-time defending champion, has won 10 straight tournament games heading into Saturday's semifinal against No. 25 Virginia.

That run started when Larkins and Pringle were freshmen on a team that included stars Ivory Latta and Camille Little. In the years since, the frontcourt duo has lost just 12 games while guiding the Tar Heels to some of their most successful seasons under longtime coach Sylvia Hatchell. This year, they helped the team become the first in school history to go unbeaten in ACC regular-season play.

Hatchell is counting on that experience now more than ever.

"I've challenged them to lead our team," the Hall of Fame coach said, "and that's exactly what they're doing."

The Tar Heels had no trouble with the ninth-seeded Tigers (12-19), who edged North Carolina State in overtime in the first round. North Carolina shot 53 percent while building a 52-35 halftime lead, a margin that grew to as many as 23 in the second half.

Larkins and Pringle keyed that early surge by combining for 30 points on 11-for-11 shooting in the first half against Clemson's zone defense. Larkins finished 10-for-13 from the field to go with 10 rebounds, four assists and three steals, while Pringle had five rebounds in just 21 minutes.

"We want to go out on top and we know and told the team that once you go into postseason, it's a whole new level," Pringle said. "In the ACC, even though you played and beat everybody, they're going to play better the second and third time around. Once you get to the NCAA [Tournament], it's going to be even harder because everyone's going to step up their game because you're one-and-done."

D'Lesha Lloyd had 20 points and 10 rebounds to lead Clemson, which got as close as nine points on her jumper with 12 1/2 minutes left. But McCants sparked a 12-2 run that put the Tigers away, twice assisting on inside scores by Larkins before cutting through the paint for a driving basket that made it 77-58 with 8:34 to play.

Clemson got no closer than 17 points the rest of the way.

"We knew going in it was going to be a tough game, that we were going to have to play awful well for 40 minutes," Tigers coach Cristy McKinney said. "We played really well in some stretches, and I'm really proud of our team because they really battled. This should give our young team something to look forward to for next year."

The Tar Heels got a scare when freshman reserve Rebecca Gray was injured while trying to draw a charge in the paint against Clemson's Moreemi Davis with 6:15 to play. Gray laid on the floor for several minutes before medical personnel put her on a backboard and carried her from the court, though she appeared to be conscious and able to move.

Hatchell said Gray apparently hit her chin on the play and also hurt her neck as she fell to the ground. Gray was taken to a hospital for evaluation. The school later said a CT scan was negative and that she had been released, but she is listed as day-to-day.

Before the game, there was a moment of silence for Eve Marie Carson, the student body president at North Carolina who was found shot to death on a Chapel Hill street Thursday. The Tar Heel coaching staff wore blue ribbons in honor of Carson, while the players placed the ribbons in their shoes. Several also had written Carson's name on their shoes.