Trailing 49-33 with 17:43 left to play, No. 1-seed UNC (31-6) stuck to its game plan despite a stifling Trojans’ defense that had held 37 percent shooting in the first half, including a horrendous 2-for-12 mark from behind the arc.
As bad as it looked at times, true to his nature, Roy Williams never used a timeout.
“I didn’t even throw a chair in the locker room,” he said.
Instead Williams left survival largely up to his team – which consists of 11 sophomores and freshmen – to suck it up and find themselves a way to win.
“It just shows the confidence that Coach has in us – I really respect that,” Wright said. “He let us play through it and we got the job done for him.”
The lead seesawed for several more minutes while USC freshman center Taj Gibson accumulated his fourth foul trying to keep Hansbrough at bay.
“We felt like Hansbrough was a real key,” USC coach Tim Floyd said. “We felt like quick doubles to him would limit his ability to just turn that shoulder and bowl through you and draw a foul. Taj going out…was an important part of this game.”
When Gibson was relegated to his seat at the 12:25 mark, the Tar Heels buried USC with an 18-0 run and set up a highly-anticipated East regional final match-up with two-seed Georgetown Sunday at 5:05 p.m.
The game will come four days shy of the 25-year anniversary of the Tar Heels’ NCAA Championship win over the Hoyas, a 63-62 win on March 29, 1982 at the Lousiana Superdome. Carolina is 2-0 vs. Georgetown in NCAA play.
During the comeback, Carolina scored on five of seven possessions – four via offensive putbacks.
Floyd, who was called for a technical after he stormed on the court and threw an index card on the court in the game’s final minutes, said the Tar Heels’ rebounding edge – 20-10 offensively – was the key to outcome.
Carolina outscored Southern California in the second half by a 41-22 count
“In the first half we were just taking what the defense was giving us and let them dictate the game,” said Reyshawn Terry, who saw limited action due to illness. “It was the opposite in the second half and we got back to playing Carolina basketball.”
In Terry’s absence, Marcus Ginyard and Danny Green stepped up to the challenge, combining for 18 points and 17 rebounds.
“We have to play with that intensity now or we’re going to be going home, sitting in that locker room afterwards with our heads down,” Ginyard said. “That’s no feeling that anybody on this team wants to have right now. So we just had to do whatever it took.”
The Tar Heels are 6-1 in NCAA Tournament appearances and 12-3 overall at the Meadowlands.