for this game

North Carolina jolts Southern Cal with big comeback

Mar 24, 2007 - 8:02 AM EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Ticker) -- North Carolina started sprinting at the sound of the whistle and never slowed down.

Freshman Brandan Wright scored 21 points as the top-seeded Tar Heels roared back from a 16-point second-half deficit to topple fifth-seeded Southern California, 74-64, in an NCAA Tournament East Region semifinal.

Marcus Ginyard helped spark the stunning comeback, coming off the bench to add 10 points and nine rebounds to send North Carolina (31-6) into the regional final against No. 2 seed Georgetown on Sunday.

"We feel very lucky that we are still playing," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.

In winning their seventh straight game, the Tar Heels exploited USC's biggest weakness, rallying after freshman center Taj Gibson was whistled for his fourth foul and went to the bench with 12:25 to play and the Trojans holding a 57-45 lead.

The impact was swift and punishing for USC, which had used a 15-0 run bridging the half to take a 49-33 lead with 17:41 to play.

Without the 6-9 Gibson to hold the fort inside, Carolina started playing volleyball on the backboards and went on a 20-2 run, including the final 18 points for 67-59 lead with 4:40 to go.

"It was important to us, no question. He had nine rebounds at halftime," Williams said of Gibson. "But it's one of the reasons I play a lot of people because if we play a lot of people, we're not going to be as tired, we'll have more energy and we won't have the same guy in there getting in foul trouble.

"Taj was having a great game. He's had a phenomenal freshman year. I said something to him about don't let what you've done be discredited by one night."

In that stretch, the Tar Heels scored 15 straight points on a variety of layups, dunks and follow shots, including three putbacks by Ginyard, who had seven points in the run.

"They were effort plays," Ginyard said. "We really lacked that effort and passion in the first half. In the second half that was definitely our emphasis, just to play with passion and intensity."

A telling stat is that the Tar Heels managed to erase the 16-point deficit despite shooting 40 in the second half and not making a 3-pointer.

"You know, I thought that Taj going out, with his fourth foul, as early as it happened at the 12-minute mark, was an important part of this game," Trojans coach Tim Floyd said. "I thought he played just extremely well throughout this game both defensively, containment of (Tar Heels point guard Ty) Lawson in transition, and rebounding that ball. I thought he played very well."

Wright, stepping up in place of leading scorer Tyler Hansbrough, who scored a season-low five points, netted 11 points in the final 12:18 as North Carolina closed the game with a 41-15 spurt.

"Personally, I wasn't looking at the foul situation," Wright said. "I was just worried about who I was guarding. We really pride ourselves on hitting the glass. We do what we need to do, push, scratch, claw to get the offensive rebound."

Gibson finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds, helping the Trojans to a 24-21 rebound edge in the first half. Carolina turned that around by owning the boards in the second half, 25-15, and finishing with 20 offensive rebounds for the contest.

"We came a long way throughout the year, but we just couldn't take care of business today," Gibson said. "Tonight it just didn't go our way, they out rebounded us and that was what killed us in the end."

The Trojans still had faint hopes, trailing, 70-64, on Gabe Pruitt's layup with 3:06 to play, but failed to score the rest of the way.

North Carolina couldn't score either until Floyd was hit with a technical foul for arguing Gibson's fifth foul with 48 seconds to go.

"Just disappointed. Wanted to keep playing," Floyd explained. "Wanted to keep playing. Disappointed with Taj's situation, he was fouling out of the game, you know. But, you know, a technical is a part of a game. It just happened. It just happened.

"I can't comment on the call, as you know, or his fourth foul. I can't comment on that either. So you sit there and you exercise frustration from time to time, which I did."

Nick Young and Lodrick Stewart added 15 points each for USC, which scored just seven points in the last 12 1/2 minutes.

"I mean, they're a great team. I think we just let up a little bit on the defensive end, not getting back in transition," Stewart said. "They got a lot of layups, well, a couple of layups. They just outrebounded us. I think that was the key, the run, to the success of their win."