The Arizona State women’s basketball team has won 24 games this season primarily because of its defense, but it hasn’t had a matchup quite like this one.
When the No. 5-seeded Sun Devils take the floor tonight in their Sweet 16 game against No. 1 seed North Carolina at Wells Fargo Arena, they will see one of the premier point guards in the nation.
Or maybe they won’t see her.
Ivory Latta, a first-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference and third-team All-America selection, can be tough to find in a crowd. Although listed at 5-foot-6, which Latta insists is correct, Tar Heels coach Sylvia Hatchell has her doubts.
"She is a very passionate player, very skilled, athletic and she can shoot the three," Hatchell said. "All of that comes in a very small package. She is listed at 5-6. She wants to be 5-6, but I’m 5-6 and I’m taller than she is. I won’t say how tall she really is, but she is not 5-6. All the little kids love her because she is their size. She’s a bright leader and a super athlete."
Latta, a sophomore, averaged 16.9 points and 4.5 assists per game in the regular season. In the ACC tournament, she averaged 25.7 points, including a 26-point effort in the championship game against Duke, and was named the tournament MVP.
She scored 27 and 17 points in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, blowouts over Coppin State and George Washington.
Earlier this week, ASU point guard Kylan Loney noted that Latta was especially dangerous in her ability to knock down a 3-pointer off the dribble but said Friday that the team defense ASU plays will help her control Latta. Loney will trade off guarding Latta with fellow guards Carrie Buckner, the best defensive guard on the team, and Reagan Pariseau.
"The good thing about playing on the Arizona State women’s basketball team is that I don’t have to focus on me and that person," Loney said. "It’s going to be a team effort against her. She is a great player."
The best point guard ASU has seen this year was probably Notre Dame’s honorable mention All-American Megan Duffy, who ASU faced Monday in the second round of the tournament. Duffy was effective shooting against the Sun Devils. She had 24 points and was 3-for-6 from 3-point range and 9-for-10 from the freethrow line. She did, however, have five turnovers to just four assists.
The Sun Devils’ defense has given perimeter players headaches this year. They will likely shatter the Pac-10 record for fewest points allowed per game. Stanford holds the record of 59.1 points per game, which was set last season. ASU enters tonight’s contest allowing only 54 points per game and could also break school records for rebounding defense (opponents are grabbing only 31.8 rebounds per game) and 3-point defense (opponents are shooting 25.5 percent).
The latter quality will be imperative against Latta, who has hit 88 3-pointers this season while shooting 40.9 percent from behind the arc.
"I expect them to come and play hard-nosed, in-your-facedefense," Latta said. "I know I’m expecting a little zone, but I’m not going to try to pick out what they’re going to do on us, I’m just going to do what I have to do for my teammates."
No. 5 ASU women vs. No. 1 North Carolina
When: 9:30 p.m. today
Where: Wells Fargo Arena
TV/Radio: ESPN2/NBC (1190 AM)
Records: Arizona State 24-9, North Carolina 29-3
No. 5 Arizona State vs. No. 1 North Carolina
How they got here: ASU def. No. 12 Eastern Kentucky 87-65, def. No. 4 Notre Dame 70-61.
North Carolina def. No. 16 Coppin State 97-62, def. No. 9 George Washington 71-47.
Probable starters: Arizona State — Emily Westerberg, 6-0 Soph. F (11.2 ppg); Aubree Johnson, 6-2 Soph. F (5.9 ppg); Kristen Kovesdy, 6-3 Jr. F (11.2 ppg); Carrie Buckner, 5-9 Sr. G (4.7 ppg); Kylan Loney, 5-7 Sr. G (9.5 ppg).
North Carolina — Erlana Larkins, 6-2 Fr. F (14.8 ppg); Nikita Bell, 6-0 Sr. F/G (10.6 ppg); Camille Little, 6-1 Soph. F/G (12.0 ppg); La’Tangela Atkinson, 6-1 Jr. G/F (8.2 ppg); Ivory Latta, 5-6 Soph. G (17.2 ppg).