RICHMOND, Va. -- During preparation for yesterday's Final Four game with North Carolina, Purdue women's basketball coach Lin Dunn showed her team films of Tar Heels forward Charlotte Smith dunking in warm-ups to motivate the Boilermakers to keep Smith from making highlight films.
Smith didn't dunk, but she did just about everything else in North Carolina's 89-74 victory over Purdue before 11,966 at the Richmond Coliseum, sending the Tar Heels into today's NCAA championship game against Louisiana Tech.
Smith, a 6-foot junior, had 23 points, eight rebounds and a career-high eight assists to lead North Carolina, which seeks the first women's championship in school and Atlantic Coast Conference history.
"They just decided it was the Charlotte Smith show," said Dunn. "It was an interesting performance. She was shooting threes, driving left, driving right. We had two or three people on her and a couple of defenses and it didn't work.
In one critical second-half stretch, after Tar Heels guard Tonya Sampson, the team's leading scorer and emotional fulcrum, picked up her fourth foul with 16:05 to play, Smith scored 10 straight points to break a close game open.
"When I hit the first few shots, I was getting more confident," said Smith, a former ACC Rookie of the Year, a first-team All-ACC selection this year and the Most Valuable Player of the ACC tournament. She is the niece of former North Carolina State great David Thompson. "I was taking advantage of the opportunities and the shots were falling."
The Tar Heels (32-2), who have been nothing but brilliant since the ACC tournament, unleashed a combination of speed and athleticism the likes of which Big Ten champion Purdue (29-5) hadn't seen.
North Carolina got 17 steals, the second-highest total in a Final Four game, and forced 30 Purdue turnovers, also the second highest in the 13-year history of the NCAA's women's national semifinals.
Tar Heels freshman guard Marion Jones had six steals and 19 points. Jones, a world-class sprinter, consistently was able to pick off Purdue passes and turn them into layups by out-running the opposition.
"I was just anticipating on passes, and they weren't doing a good job of faking me or my teammates out. I got lucky," said Jones.
Jones was so fast that on one second-half steal, she was whistled for traveling, although it appeared from replays that her move was legal.
"If you haven't seen Marion Jones play, you don't understand that she can leave the floor from the free-throw line and make the layup," said Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell.
Said Sampson: "She just faked the ref out, that's all."
The Boilermakers, who trailed by as many as 13 in the first half, closed the gap to two at halftime, and after falling behind by six early in the second half, launched an 8-0 run to lead by two with 16:41 left.
Sampson tied the game on a layup 14 seconds later, then drew her fourth foul on a controversial play, where she collided with Purdue's Jennifer Jacoby going for a loose ball.
Hatchell became livid and called a timeout six seconds before a scheduled television break to "let the refs think about it."
After the timeout, the Tar Heels, who usually play man-to-man defense, switched to a zone after baskets for the third straight game.
And, as it had against Vanderbilt and Connecticut in the East Regionals, the move stripped the Boilermakers of their momentum and sent North Carolina to the final.
"I told Marion to stay in the middle of the floor, so they wouldn't trap her. We had to do something to take them out of their rhythm. It was a gamble, but it worked," said Hatchell.
THE FINAL FOUR
At Richmond Coliseum
Louisiana Tech 69, Alabama 66
North Carolina 89, Purdue 74
NB La. Tech (31-3) vs. N. Carolina (32-2), 3:45 p.m. (chs. 11, 9)