26-10, 12-7 Away

North Carolina overcomes McCoughtry's 35 to beat Louisville

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell couldn't bring herself to belabor her team's 25 turnovers, double-digit rebounding deficit or bumbling first half.

The Tar Heels had shown too much grit, too much poise in the face of adversity, to be cut down by their own coach.

LaToya Pringle had 27 points and 11 rebounds, and North Carolina climbed out of an 18-point hole in a 78-74 victory over fourth-seeded Louisville on Saturday, keeping alive the top-seeded Tar Heels' bid for a third straight trip to the Final Four.

"When you look at those numbers and you still won, I see that as a positive, because I don't think we're going to play like that again," Hatchell said. "Those kids had so much heart. It's tough, and we had to rise to the occasion."

The victory extended the Tar Heels' winning streak to 16 and placed them in the regional final on Monday night, when they'll play LSU.

Louisville star Angel McCoughtry finished with 35 points and 13 rebounds, but was unable to dominate in the second half as she had in the first, when she scored 21 of her points.

"We believed the entire time that we could win this game," Louisville first-year coach Jeff Walz said. "We knew it was going to be a game of runs, so we were up 18 in the first half, but that wasn't something I felt comfortable with."

For good reason.

Louisville (26-10) led 48-37 after Chauntise Wright's basket inside opened scoring in the second half. But the Tar Heels (33-2) quickly turned the tide with an 11-1 run that included Pringle's two baskets inside and a pair of free throws after Louisville coach Walz was whistled for a technical foul as he yelled at the officials.

Rashanda McCants' baseline floater pulled the Tar Heels to 49-48, and several possessions later, Heather Claytor's 3-pointer from the left corner tied it at 53.

"They stepped up. They were tough," Hatchell said of her players. "We didn't fold. ... You didn't see them out there with dissension. ... You didn't see those types of things because they know what it takes to win. They bonded together even more and were stronger as a unit."

Louisville went back ahead on a pair of baseline drives by McCoughtry before Jessica Breland scored six points during an 8-0 run that gave North Carolina its first lead since early in the first half, 61-57. Those baskets began a 20-6 run that gave the Tar Heels a 73-63 lead with 2:27 to go.

"In the second half they pressed us and I don't guess we handled it as well as we should," said Candyce Bingham, who had 17 points and 20 rebounds for Louisville. "I mean, they're a great team. That's what they're supposed to do."

Bingham hit a pair of late 3s to help Louisville close to 76-74 with 29 seconds to go, but Pringle, who had missed four of her previous six free throws, made two straight with 26 seconds to go.

"I was so nervous. That's one of the most pressure situations I've ever been in," Pringle said. "I just said to myself, 'OK, at least make one,' ... so I knocked down two and I just thanked God and got back on defense."

Louisville did not score again.

Cetera DeGraffenreid scored 13 for North Carolina. McCants added 12 points and Breland 11.

Wright scored 13 for Louisville, which outrebounded North Carolina 56-44.

Hatchell had four players prepared to rotate defensively to McCoughtry as necessary. But in the first half, nothing could stop Louisville's leading scorer, who came in averaging 23.5 points.

McCoughtry had 21 points and seven rebounds in the opening 20 minutes, hitting two 3-pointers, several midrange jumpers and forcing her way inside for driving layups and putbacks.

Bingham had 11 points and 12 rebounds in the opening half in helping Louisville build a lead a 37-19 lead.

North Carolina at first seemed flustered by Louisville's swarming zone defense, which forced 13 first-half turnovers.

In the last five minutes of the first half, the Tar Heels began to close the gap with six straight points, capped by DeGraffenreid's floater in the lane that cut the score to 42-32.

"I knew we weren't playing our game and all we needed to do was chip away at their lead little by little," Pringle said. "We had a goal to get it to 10 by halftime and we did that."

Breland's jumper after she pounced on a loose ball in the lane cut Louisville's lead to 46-37 at halftime.

"You find out what you're made if when your back's against the wall," Hatchell said. "It was tough out there and they didn't turn their backs. They charged harder ... I think that's what makes us a great team."